On the surface, Philadelphia is a bustling metropolis, filled with eager business people, honking traffic and a multitude of opportunity.
But if you squint your eyes and take a moment, the spirits of our country’s founding fathers are lurking around every corner.
Independence Hall, originally known as the Pennsylvania State House, is one of those buildings with walls we wish had the ability to speak.
George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in the Independence Hall assembly room back in 1732. The chair he sat in can still be seen there.
Then, on July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted in that same room.
But on July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress actually voted for total independence from England.
While speaking walls aren’t reality, if you listen closely, you may hear, feel or see a piece of history that is not immediately obvious.
Co-worker Michelle Caffrey, a self-proclaimed “history-loving, sentimentalist,” recalled that, on that night 238 years ago, the weather was similar to what it was this year.
In David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, he wrote, “Outside, more rain threatened, and at about ten came another cloudburst like the day before.”
“I was reading that right around 10 p.m. and it was storming and it gave me chills,” Caffrey said.
McCullough continued, writing that the “vote went rapidly.”
“So, it was done, the break was made, in words at least: On July 2, 1776, in Philadelphia, the American colonies declared independence. It was John Adams, more than anyone, who made it happen,” McCullough wrote. “Further, he seems to have understood more clearly than any what a momentous day it was and in the privacy of two long letters to Abigail, he poured out his feelings as did no one else.”
McCullough then transcribed some of Adams’ words from one of those letters: “The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epochs in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”
Since Adams wrote those words, the holiday has been celebrated on July 4, instead of his wishes of July 2, so could the thunderous roars the region heard on July 2 have been President Adams’ way of celebrating all these years later?
There have been many stories of ghostly apparitions in and around Independence Hall, where so much of this country’s history was born.
Back in 2012, I joined a ghost tour presented by Historian Joe Wojie, owner of Grim Philly Twilight Tours, that explored ghost stories from the Independence Visitor Center to Washington Square Park to the Commodore John Barry statue that stands behind Independence Hall.
It was there, amid the long shadows of the stately building, that Wojie told the story of a young bride who may still roam the grounds.
During the Revolutionary War, Judge Edward Shippen — a lawyer, judge, government official and prominent figure in colonial and post-Revolutionary Philadelphia — was part of the population of people who were considered “neutral.”
Wojie explained that Shippen was on the fence about which side of the dispute he was actually on.
“Once he saw the Americans were getting help and would most likely win the war, he went with America and decided to marry his daughter to the cause,” he said.
The American man he chose for his daughter was none other than Benedict Arnold.
Shippen’s daughter Margaret married Arnold and went to live with him. However, as soon as she learned that Arnold was a traitor, she left him and attempted to return to Philadelphia.
However, because of her marriage to Arnold, she was not welcomed back to the city.
Wojie said the Americans “kicked her out of not only Philadelphia, but the entire state of Pennsylvania.”
At the time, the patriots burned a 30-foot-high, paper mache representation of Arnold in the streets surrounding Independence Hall.
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Image courtesy of MorgueFile.