July 15, 2016

Philly's Collection Of Historical Artifacts Wins Over Political Junkies

Ephemera Includes Cleveland's Tumor, Ben Franklin's "Rising Sun" Chair

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In celebration of the DNC, 57 decorated Donkeys Around Town are on display throughout and just beyond Center City. Photo by M. Fischetti for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
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Before and during the festive nominating sessions, motivating speeches and nighttime celebrations, delegates, party operatives, campaign staffers and volunteers for the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Philadelphia, July 25-28, can discover items that document the history of politics and government in this country. As the birthplace of the nation and the country’s first and only World Heritage City, Philadelphia is home to institutions that work political artifacts into their missions and others that are planning special exhibitions especially for this occasion.

Campaign Memorabilia:

  • Inspired by FanFest, PoliticalFest brings political entertainment to the people—right in the birthplace of American democracy. Special performances, games and displays at seven locations around the city—including the Pennsylvania Convention Center, National Constitution Center, National Liberty Museum, Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Heritage Center at the Union League—create an interactive, multi-platform nonpartisan experience centered on government, American history and political pop culture. July 22-27. phldnc.com/politicalfest
  • Part of PoliticalFest (above), Headed to the White House runs through November 13 and augments the National Constitution Center’s permanent collection with even more political goodies. Some artifacts are somber or serious, such as a receipt from a Texas poll tax designed to discourage poor citizens from voting and a Florida punch-card voting machine whose “hanging chads” led to a dispute over Florida’s decisive electoral votes and a Supreme Court decision that gave those votes—and the 2000 presidential election—to George W. Bush over Al Gore. Others are fun and quirky: “Kennedy Kards” playing cards from the 1960s, a Kraft Macaroni & Cheese box from the 2008 Democratic convention, a slipper worn at George Washington’s inaugural ball and a pineapple hat supporting Bob Dole from the 1996 Republican National Convention (the latter two items arrive to the museum in May). Through November 8. 525 Arch Street, (215) 409-6700, constitutioncenter.org
  • Sweep the Country: Political Conventions in Philadelphia is on view at The Heritage Center of The Union League of Philadelphia and presented in partnership with the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent as part of PoliticalFest. The exhibit covers the 11 political conventions held in Philadelphia between 1848 and 2000, and after this year’s DNC, items and stories from Philadelphia’s 12th political convention will join to the display. Videos featuring historians and historic objects, including badges, ribbons and pins, transport visitors to past conventions, complete with celebrations and strife. Open to the public Tuesdays, Thursdays and second Saturdays. Through early 2017. 140 S. Broad Street, (215) 563-6500, unionleague.org

Presidential Exhibitions:

  • For its part in PoliticalFest, the Pennsylvania Convention Center hosts Politics and You!, a high-tech, interactive and family-friendly variety of experiences that will include the fuselage of Air Force One, a replica of the Oval Office and Future Leaders Zone, political fun and games for kids. 1101 Arch Street, Hall F, (800) 428-9000, paconvention.com
  • First Families go under the microscope at Historic Philadelphia’s National Liberty Museum. An interesting choice, considering the presence of a former First Lady in the current race, this PoliticalFest exhibition includes the museum’s collection of White House china—dating back to George Washington’s time in office—family photos, dresses First Ladies wore and special programming by the Rendell Center for Civic Engagement. 321 Chestnut Street, (215) 925-2800, libertymuseum.org
  • Philadelphia’s centuries-long involvement with the presidency undergoes a closer examination at the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, the city’s specialist for local history and lore. Convention attendees, media and fans can pop in this PoliticalFest spot for a special “whistle stop” photo opportunity. 15 S. 7th Street, (215) 685-4830, philadelphiahistory.org


  • He was never president, but in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin reigns as the most popular political figure of all time. Visitors can see his likeness and influence all over the city. The Benjamin Franklin Museum and the Franklin Print Shop are two must-do sites for people who want to discover the essence, work and influence of the Founding Father. Between the two adjacent sites, visitors can read the political editorials Franklin published in his Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper and admire the Sedan chair he sat on as an older man while attending the Constitutional Convention in 1787. 322 Market Street, (215) 965-2305, nps.gov/inde
  • Benjamin Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society in 1743 as the first gathering place for the exchange of political, scientific and intellectual ideas. Today, its collections number more than 13 million manuscripts dating from the Colonial to the digital ages. Inside its museum are the handwritten journals of Lewis and Clark, among other patents, portraits, maps and documents. The exhibition Gathering Voices: Thomas Jefferson and Native America gets in on this year’s presidential theme. Through December 30. 104 S. 5th Street, (215) 440-3400, amphilsoc.org
  • Also in concert with PoliticalFest, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania displays some of the nation’s rarest and most treasured founding documents, including John Dunlap’s printer’s proof and the first Newport printing of the Declaration of Independence, handwritten drafts of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the National Woman Suffrage Association—with a handwritten note by Susan B. Anthony. 1300 Locust Street, (215) 732-6200, hsp.org
  • The Philadelphia Library Company participates in PoliticalFest by showcasing very select pieces of its vast collections of books, manuscripts (which amount to more than 550 linear square feet), maps, prints, photographs and more than 300 objects in its esteemed archives in a don’t-miss exhibition for American history buffs. 1314 Locust Street, (215) 546-3181, librarycompany.org
  • Valley Forge National Historical Park showcases its collection of revolutionary weapons and letters Washington wrote during his stay, in addition to the houses where General George Washington and Brigadier General James Varnum stayed and worked during the winter encampment of 1777-1778. In one, entitled “Great and Capital Changes,” the future president asks Congress for more supplies because soldiers do not have enough food or shoes. 1400 N. Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia, (610) 783-1000, nps.gov/vafo
  • For the DNC, Christ Church, where many Founding Fathers worshipped, displays a segment of a coat of arms belonging to King George III, a recreated U.N. Chapel and two presidential letters: one from George Washington to Reverend William White in 1799 to thank him for sending a copy of his sermon and one from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Reverend Felix Kloman to thank him for the creation of a U.N. Chapel in the church. 2nd Street between Market & Arch Streets, (215) 922-1695, christchurchphila.org
  • While in office, President George Washington wrote to the Jewish community to promise freedom of religion to worshippers of all faiths. Located on Independence Mall, the National Museum of American Jewish History proudly displays this historic letter. 101 S. Independence Mall East, (215) 923-3811, nmajh.org

Monuments & Furnishings:

  • Throughout Independence National Historical Park are items of tremendous importance to the country’s national heritage. The most notable include the iconic Liberty Bell; the silver inkstand used to sign the Declaration of Independence in the West Wing of Independence Hall; a copy of the Declaration of Independence printed on July 4, 1776, also in the West Wing; the “Rising Sun” chair that Washington sat in while presiding over the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Independence Hall; archeological fragments of the first executive mansion at The President’s House; and painted portraits of founders, including Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison inside the Second Bank of the United States. Between 4th & 6th Streets and Chestnut & Market Streets, (215) 965-2305, nps.gov/inde
  • In 1972, Congress designated the interior of the rotunda of The Franklin Institute science museum as the official national memorial to Benjamin Franklin. Today, visitors enjoy the entrance space for free. In the center sits a formidable 20-foot-high statue of the statesman atop a 92-ton marble pedestal. Every hour, the 3.5-minute “Benjamin Franklin Forever” multimedia show demonstrates Franklin’s impact on the world. 222 N. 20th Street, (215) 448-1200, fi.edu
  • One of the largest art museums in the U.S., the Philadelphia Museum of Art houses the most comprehensive collection of American Presidential china outside of the White House and the Smithsonian Institution, and it’s the only public display. Several of the pieces were crafted specifically for political campaigns. 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 763-8100, philamuseum.org


  • People strolling through the galleries of the Barnes Foundation can find a couple political-themed pieces among the 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes and 59 Matisses: Guy Pène du Bois’ The Politician, a 1912 oil painting, and William Glackens’ Woman Waving Flag, a rough, circa-1905 drawing of a woman holding a flag. 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 278-7200, barnesfoundation.org
  • When muralist Meg Saligman commemorated the terrorist attacks of 9/11 by painting the American flag on the side of a building in October 2001, she and the director of Mural Arts Philadelphia intended it to “fly” for only six weeks. Fifteen years later, the mural “hangs” just as brightly. But before the DNC comes to town, Saligman will restore the mural, which is one of nearly 4,000 larger-than-life works displayed across the city. N. Delaware Avenue & Spring Garden Street, (215) 685-0750, muralarts.org
  • A special exhibition drawn from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ (PAFA) permanent collection explores themes of humor, protest and portraiture in the cross-section of American art and politics. Called Happiness, Liberty, Life? American Art and Politics, the show addresses American artists’ often-explosive engagement with the political process. As part of the exhibition, The Wall of Washington presents more than 25 representations of George and Martha Washington. A companion installation in PAFA’s Historic Landmark Building traces the history of presidential portraiture from the 19th century to the present. June 29-September 18. 118-128 N. Broad Street, (215) 972-7600, pafa.org

A Matter Of Life & Death:

  • Grave markers at Christ Church Burial Ground identify the burial sites of Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Benjamin Rush and three other signers of the Declaration of Independence. During the convention, historians offer hourly 20-minute tours that highlight the revolutionary contributions of the country’s Founding Mothers, including Deborah Franklin, Julia Rush, Abigail Adams and Martha Washington. July 25-28. Church, 2nd Street between Market & Arch Streets; Burial Ground, Arch Street between 4th & 5th Streets, (215) 922-1695, christchurchphila.org
  • File this one under macabre: The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, established by Benjamin Rush, displays Grover Cleveland’s tumor, thoracic tissue from John Wilkes Booths’ corpse and the brain of the man who assassinated James Garfield at the Mütter Museum. The permanent Civil War exhibition contains medical tools and specimens from the battlefield. 19 S. 22nd Street, (215) 560-8564, muttermuseum.org

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