Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Holiday: July 4th Fireworks

Fireworks have been around for centuries, but they were mostly like large firecrackers until traces of flammable metals were added, and then they exploded in color. Uploaded by pinellasnewsboys.com.

They can be spectacular. In New York City, they exploded more than 22 tons of pyrotechnics a couple of years ago. Or they can be modest, a few minutes of “oooh” and “aaah” in small towns all across the country. Big or small, they reflect the pride Americans feel on their greatest patriotic holiday.

Uploaded by lilesnet.com.

The celebration probably goes back to 1777, the first anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In Philadelphia they rang bells, fired guns – and lit what firecrackers they had. John Adams, the second President, wrote, “”It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with…illuminations from one end of this continent to the other…”

Fireworks also evoke this line in the “Star Spangled Banner”: “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air…” Historically, fireworks were known more for their sound, creating a loud bang but not much color. In the 1830s, trace metals that burn at high temperatures became standard, and suddenly fireworks were a visual treat as well. Unfortunately, video doesn’t do them justice, but here’s a part of the 2010 July 4th show in New York:

Americana: The Liberty Bell

The first Liberty Bell cracked. The second sounded awful. The third didn't sound much better, and also cracked. But we love it because it called citizens to the reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776. Uploaded by wikimedia.org.

The Liberty Bell sits silent today, a symbol of our national values and an icon of freedom. But in its early days, it was rung for many important occasions. When King George III took the throne, ironically, in 1761. When the first Continental Congress was convened in 1774. And most famously of all, on July 8, 1776 to summon the citizens of Philadelphia to hear the reading of the new Declaration of Independence.

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The Pennsylvania legislature chose to order a bell as a way to honor the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s 1701 Charter of Privileges. The bell as we see it today is actually the third casting attempt. When the original bell arrived from England’s Whitechapel Foundry, it was tested for sound – and proceeded to crack. Two Philadelphia metalsmiths melted it down, added some copper, and tried it again. This time, no one liked its sound at all. So the two men tried again, with not much more success. Whitechapel Foundry was asked to try again, but their new bell wasn’t any better. So the original bell – our Liberty Bell – remained in the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall. Crack and all.

Even following the American Revolution, the bell wasn’t known by its present name. It was called “Independence Bell” or the “Old Yankee’s Bell” until 1833. A pamphlet issued by the American Anti-Slavery Society first gave it the name “Liberty Bell.”

Of course, that comes from the inscription on the bell itself. It reads, in part, “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof. Lev. XXV X” So you don’t have to look it up, here’s what Leviticus 25:10 says: “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.”

You can see why those who worked for the end of slavery approved of this verse on the Liberty Bell, can’t you?

Sports: The Army-Navy Game

The game has been played in Philadelphia 81 times, but will be played in D.C. occasionally in the future. Uploaded to Flickr by jagwoodlex.

They started playing the game back in 1890, and Navy shut out the Army that year, 24-0. Last year they did it again, winning 34-0. They’ve now met 109 times, and the Navy holds a slight edge in the series, with 53 wins to the Army’s 49 (seven ties).

There was a time when this was not only a fierce rivalry, but one that actually mattered in college football. These schools, particularly the Army, were among the sport’s powers in the 1930s and 40s. In fact, in both the 1944 and 1945 seasons the national championship was at stake. The Army, blessed with two of the sport’s all-time greats in Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, won both games.

Uploaded to Flickr by themurf.

Part of what makes this game so special is the pageantry involved, as both student bodies march into the stadium, and cheer on their on-field heroes. Part of is the pranks the service academies play on the other leading up to the game. And part is the respect all Americans have for our military, as demonstrated by all the Presidents who have attended – Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Ford, Clinton, and George W. Bush. Eisenhower actually played in the game as a halfback and linebacker for Army (they lost).

Food: Philly Cheesesteak

This one's made with Cheese Whiz. Uploaded by wikimedia.org.

This one's made with Cheese Whiz. Uploaded by wikimedia.org.

Hard as it is to believe, the original cheesesteak from Philadelphia was missing what you might consider a key ingredient – cheese. The sandwich originated at a hot dog stand owned by Pat and Harry Olivieri, and became so popular that Pat started his own place that’s still operating today, Pat’s King of Steaks.

Geno's Steaks, the newer rival. Uploaded by cheesesteaktown.com.

Geno's Steaks, the newer rival. Uploaded by cheesesteaktown.com.

A couple of years later, someone finally figured out that cheese makes everything better. And the first cheese used on the Philly steak was provolone. Today, at Pat’s chief rival in South Philly, Geno’s Steaks, you can order your sandwich with provolone, American, or Cheese Whiz. The New York Times called Cheese Whiz “the sine qua non of cheesesteaks.” But what does the Times know from cheesesteaks, huh? Just be prepared to order fast, because there are people waiting in line behind you, hey!

In his 2004 campaign for president, that famed man of the people John Kerry ordered a cheesesteak with swiss cheese. Really. Didn’t go over too well in Philly. The Philadelphia Inquirer opined, “In Philadelphia, that’s an alternate lifestyle.”

Great video about the Pat’s vs. Geno’s cheesesteak war: