PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — What’s with the weather? One day, we’re checking cheeks and noses for frostbite, the next, it’s fiftyish and pouring? So, how do you do a getaway? Try a museum crawl, both here and near. Let’s start in familiar Philly. Pack up the kids and let’s go.
What could be more exciting for a kid that seeing a statue of King George being hauled to the ground by a mob of irate colonists? That starts an interactive visit to the newest Philadelphia museum, the dynamic Museum of the American Revolution. The exhibits trace the history as well as the cause and effect of the Revolution from the viewpoint of the governed as well as those who would govern – from the tradesman and the slave to the Minute Men and the Generals. It portrays their experiences and hopes in their own words, illustrated by artifacts that define their lives. A centerpiece exhibit is the field tent used by George Washington as his headquarters, against the backdrop of a contemporary, sweeping painting, depicting a colonial encampment in the Hudson River Valley. Adults tickets are $19, youngsters 6 – 17, $12.
It’s just a short walk from the Revolutionary War immersion to the National Constitution Center. A vibrant theater in the round presentation by gifted performers and multi-media accents outlines the framing of a constitution that guides our nation. Exhibits display more than the construction of a document, but incorporate debate and legal argument about constitutional issues that are as fresh as today’s news. Traveling exhibits including the March presentation of Alexander Hamilton’s role in the formation of an American government, keep visitors returning. My favorite exhibit revolved around the Constitutional Amendment process that gave rise to Prohibition, bad guys and all. Adult tickets are $14.50, ages 6 – 18 pay $11.
If the weather starts to brighten up and you decide on an indoor-outdoor continuation of the historic crawl, head for Valley Forge Park, where Washington’s troops suffered brutal winter cold. The Visitors Center offers a look at artifacts found at the encampment. Buttons from a soldiers jacket and a musket make you wonder about the man who wore the coat and carried the flintlock. Don’t forget to browse the bookstore and pick up a map of the park. If the sky brightens, meander through the soldiers huts. Then enter Washington’s Headquarters and home. Furnishings, uniforms and cookware define a way of life for George and Martha at the height of uncertainty. Admission to the park is free.
An absorbing Get-Outa’-Town museum crawl is as close as New York City – 2 hours and a world away. First stop is a museum that became my childhood backyard. Between class trips from upper Manhattan, Boy Scout outings and family “rainy day” activities, it seemed like I knew the Museum of Natural History better than my schools. For kids, the dinosaurs and mummies are jaw dropping. The fascination hasn’t changed in decades. For my generation it didn’t hurt that the 1930’s flicks King Kong and The Mummy were still showing on neighborhood screens. From bugs to behemoths, a vivid history of our planet is on display here. And to see where we fit into the larger universal scheme, make the Hayden Planetarium a stop on your visit. From reclining seats with a window on the darkened sky, you’ll stare into a star flecked panorama of distant galaxies. Then view exhibits that trace the role of man’s exploration in outer space. Basic adult admission tickets are $23 with discounts for youngsters, student and seniors. Or “Pay-What-You-Wish”.
Take the subway downtown to the tip of Manhattan where Dutch settlers met the Native Americans that called this island their home since it was first inhabited. Here, alongside Battery Park, you’ll find the Smithsonian’s New York Branch of a unique museum devoted to the history of the people who carved a life out of this land before the 17th century European arrival. A vibrant blend of exhibits traces American Indian life of gathering food over land and sea, ceremonial events, shelters, transportation and weapons for hunting and war. It guides us through a world of very diverse tribes and customs that planted the seeds of a continent. As part of the Smithsonian museum orbit, admission is free.
If the weather gives you a break and you’re in lower Manhattan, hop a ferry to visit one of the most famous islands in America. Ellis Island is a window into the history of European immigration to America. For many, the long journey ended with an emotional view of the neighboring Statue of Liberty and then the anxious processing at Ellis Island before entering life and an uncertain future in America. Exhibits here trace the passages and arrivals. Basic adult round-trip ferry tickets are $18.50 and include landings at both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
There are countless museums – large and small in both cities. Take an online exploration tour and find those that match your own interests. Then just start the “Crawl.”