Once Upon a Nation
History that speaks to you
Every corner of Historic Philadelphia has a story to tell… and on practically every corner, Once Upon A Nation™ is telling them.
You’ll find fun at every turn: History-makers, ready to tell their side of the Revolutionary story, in settings that are just as historic. Ordinary folks going about their daily lives (circa 1776) on beautiful Harmony Lane. A living archaeology lab where you can watch history being uncovered. And when evening falls, the excitement continues with behind-the-scenes Adventure Tours, “1776” The Movie-Musical and so much more.
Once Upon A Nation™ is a unique attraction that brings history to life around Independence Mall. The summer-long celebration (Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day) features Adventure Tours (paid walking tours), Evening Activities (like an exclusive, after-hours look at Independence Hall), Harmony Lane (colonial re-enactments) and free storytelling benches throughout the Historic District.
The 13 free storytelling benches are Once Upon A Nation’s centerpiece. When you visit the benches, at places like the Betsy Ross House, Christ Church, Franklin Court and the National Constitution Center, you’ll hear the nation’s greatest untold and undertold tales.
For example, everyone knows that Betsy Ross stitched the United States’ first flag, but not too many realize that the famous seamstress was a three-time widow, an entrepreneur and a munitions maker.
Few know that Independence Hall, the birthplace of the nation, once had a museum on the second floor that housed a mastodon skeleton. And hidden in American history is the story of the dramatic journey of James Forten, a free African American who served in the Navy during the Revolutionary War, made a fortune as a sailmaker, and became a leader in the abolitionist movement.
You’ll know the storytellers (in contemporary dress) are about to begin their captivating tales when you hear them ring their special town crier bell. Not only will the modern-day storytellers entertain you, but they can also act as ambassadors to the city, providing directions and dining tips if you need them.
The 13 benches are all an easy stroll from Independence Hall, and can be enjoyed in any combination and in any order. Visit all 13 and get a special treat!
For more information about the various storytelling and tour options, download the Once Upon A Nation brochure (PDF).
Storytelling continues into the evenings with newly commissioned works by nationally-renowned writers at the Free Quaker Meeting House. Master storyteller Syd Lieberman created a feature-length tale entitled The Summer of Treason, focusing on the Declaration of Independence.
On other nights, you and fellow adventure seekers can meet and hear tales from Edgar Allan Poe, who spent some of his most prolific years in Philadelphia, or hear stories from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson re-enactors by candlelight.
If you’re in the mood for music, you can join in a hysterically historical showing of “1776” The Movie-Musical, complete with props and song lyrics at the Independence Living History Center.
Guided by a gossipy historical character, you can step back in time in the middle of the thriving and bustling Old City neighborhood for an interactive glimpse into the lives and events that shaped the birth of our nation. These newly developed Adventure Tours highlight major historic landmarks as well as some little-known, hidden treasures.
Hunt for Democracy Morning Adventure Tour participants will witness both sides of the heated argument over Independence, and vote on whether or not to take up arms.
Independence After Hours Evening Adventure Tour takers will walk through the shadows of Independence Hall (in this unique opportunity to visit inside the Hall at night, with no crowds) and experience what those late nights of the summer of 1776 were like for the Founding Fathers. Independence After Hours includes a three-course Colonial dinner at City Tavern and a ticket to the Lights of Liberty Show.
Also on Thursday nights, a Tippler’s Tour will wind through the streets of Old City, so you can sample drinks and a little sip of history at Colonial and modern-day watering holes.
New Historical Havens And Heroes
Rounding out the experience will be new historical re-enactments, complementing already popular free offerings such as The Military Muster, in which children are recruited into the Continental Army and drilled in the art of marching and musket etiquette.
Harmony Lane, at 4th and Walnut Streets, is a recreation of one of Philadelphia’s first neighborhoods. Here you’ll see costumed Colonial characters going about their day — churning butter, hanging laundry and exchanging stories about their lives.
You can also experience the fun of being young in Colonial Philadelphia as they play hoops, marbles and hopscotch. In addition, a glass armonica (an invention of Benjamin Franklin’s) performance will take place daily in Carpenters’ Hall. Colonial crafters and characters will also appear every day at the Betsy Ross House and Independence Visitor Center.
Franklin Square features family-friendly attractions such as the Liberty Carousel, a Philadelphia-themed miniature golf course, storytelling benches, two playgrounds and the Square’s centerpiece, the renovated Franklin Square Fountain.
Thirteen one-of-a-kind storytelling benches are scattered all over Philadelphia’s Historic District, telling riveting stories of our nation’s history in the places where they actually happened.
Specially-trained, uniformed storytellers delight and entertain with short three to five-minute stories while sharing the secrets of Philadelphia’s and America’s history.
6th and Race Streets
(Locations vary for each attraction)
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Neighborhood: / /
In the neighborhood
401 Chestnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19106
- The Morris House Hotel
- Sheraton Philadelphia Society Hill Hotel
- Best Western Independence Park Hotel
- Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District
- Hotel Monaco Philadelphia
- Hyatt Regency Philadelphia
at Penn’s Landing
- Penn’s View Hotel
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Museums & Attractions
- The Philadelphia Contributionship
- Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church
- Merchant’s Exchange
- National Museum of American Jewish History
- Penn’s Landing
- The Bishop White House
- The Bourse
- The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation
- National Constitution Center
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Restaurants & Dining