Independence National Park in 2026

David Murrell writes on Independence National Park, worth reading this Independence Day weekend:

The City of Philadelphia, which technically owns Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell (more on that later) and profits immensely from the park’s tourism, is guilty of neglect, too. Over the past decade, it’s given a total of $76,000 to the park — less than the annual salary of a single police officer.

But perhaps most damning of all is the widespread apathy toward the park, which seems to be shared by just about every Philadelphian. Is there something missing in our genetic code? People in Boston and Washington, D.C., have a certain historical pride baked into their DNA — even though neither of those cities has the place where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the building where the Constitution was debated, or Alexander Hamilton’s central bank. We care more about sports, food and Rocky than our historical significance. Perhaps a Freudian psychologist would trace this apathy back to when our young city lost its status as America’s capital in 1800.

In 2026, the United States will turn 250. It seems self-evident that the entire country’s attention will shift to Philadelphia, as it has for every significant anniversary in American history: the Centennial in 1876, the Bicentennial in 1976. Will our city’s crown jewel be polished in time?

When you take a tour of Independence Hall, you’re meant to absorb the following bit of American gospel above all else: that the United States is a grand experiment, its brand of federalism a shining beacon for all other governments to follow. What they don’t tell you on the tour: The federalism celebrated in American lore is also the precise reason why Independence Park is foundering. …

“Philadelphia has, literally, the best stuff in the nation,” she says. “I just can’t imagine that everyone shouldn’t be sending all their dollars to fix it and make it even better.”

It could happen. The world got a glimpse of widespread civic-mindedness in April, when the Nôtre Dame cathedral burned in Paris. Residents streamed into the streets as flames burst from the spire. One onlooker told the New York Times in a moment of despair, when the building’s fate still hung in the balance, “Paris is beheaded.”

Parisians arguably have every excuse to be more apathetic about their history than Philadelphians are, considering France’s wealth of historical sites. Yet $1 billion was raised for Nôtre Dame in the two days after it burned. To the French, the cathedral wasn’t merely another famous building — it was the soul of Paris, the lifeblood of the city. Would people be similarly devastated if Independence Hall caught fire?

We tend to think of historical buildings as just that: old, fixed in time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Their pasts may already have been written, but they straddle past and present in equal measure. Each dollar Walker solicits for the First Bank or Independence Hall becomes part of those buildings’ legacy; each tour MacLeod leads widens their story. And we seem to have forgotten that ours is an active inheritance — it must be maintained. There are few consistent lessons across history, but this one is most apt: Just because something is here today doesn’t mean it will be here tomorrow.

Joe Biden’s Philadelphia headquarters

Joe Biden is headquartering his campaign in Philadelphia:

Joe Biden will base his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, setting up in a city where he has deep ties and in a state that is central to his strategy. …

“We’re proud to anchor our campaign in the birthplace of American democracy,” said a statement to The Inquirer from Greg Schultz, Biden’s campaign manager. “Philadelphia is a thriving city and a testament to the American spirit, built by the ingenuity and tenacity of ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Its storied history and celebrated diversity will serve as an inspiration for Team Biden, and is the ideal setting to continue our fight for the soul of this nation.”

The national headquarters, which will be in Center City, will have around 50 staffers to start, a number that could grow as the campaign goes on, and especially if Biden wins the Democratic nomination. The site will become the day-to-day nerve center for Biden’s strategic planning, media team, and others. …

Democrats and Republicans both view Pennsylvania as one of the most critical battlegrounds in the 2020 race, and the Scranton-born Biden has staked much of his pitch on being able to win back the state that narrowly supported President Donald Trump in 2016.

Biden, the early leader in polls of the Democratic primary field, was sometimes dubbed Pennsylvania’s “third senator” when he represented Delaware and, after his term as vice president, established the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania.

His wife, Jill, grew up in Willow Grove.

Pennsylvania has also been a major focus for Trump, a Penn graduate who has held dozens of rallies in the state and is scheduled to return Monday for an event near Williamsport, two days after Biden appears in Philadelphia.

Good for Philadelphia.

Rally Against Bullying

I was in Center City, Philadelphia yesterday for the Rally Against Bullying, organized in response to Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims’s live-streamed verbal abuse and harassment of a grandmother, mother, and three teenaged girls who were praying outside of Center City Philadelphia’s abortion center:

The “Pro-Life Rally Against Bullying” took place in front of a downtown Philadelphia Planned Parenthood facility. On May 2, state Rep. Brian Sims livestreamed video from the same location, posting two videos in which he denounced two women, three teenagers and a man.

Sims called for donations to Planned Parenthood while offering money to viewers who could provide the identities and addresses of the witnesses.

Shortly after the videos emerged on social media, the national organization Live Action organized the rally. It featured representatives from a number of local and national groups…

Several speakers directly addressed Sims’ claims that the pro-life advocates he had filmed were racist.

Richara Krajewski of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia said she stood before the crowd “as a pro-life black woman.”

Noting that “it’s so popular now to call out racism,” Krajewski wished to clarify that application of the term, particularly “in the context of pro-abortion politics.”

“Real racism,” she said, “is co-opting the language of liberation to advocate for the destruction of the lives of the most vulnerable. Real racism is a so-called white ally telling black and brown women that they need to choose between their dreams and their babies.”

Kevin D. Williamson writes on Brian Sims’s decision to stream himself harassing members of the public:

The times being what they are, perhaps we should classify political fanaticism of the social-media performance-art variety as a kind of insanity. Political fanatics such as Sims live in the shadows between the idée fixe and outright monomania. The inferior kind — and Sims is the inferior kind — fixate on terminology as a substitute for ideas, and for them buzzwords are a necessary intellectual crutch. Hence, Sims’s shouty accusations of “white privilege” in the face of a young woman who, as she pointed out with a smile, is not white. Intersectionality — it is a bitch.

Rep. Sims had offered $100 to anyone who would reveal the names and home addresses of the women he filmed himself harassing. Thankfully, that resulted in Philadelphians instead crowdfunding more than $125,000 to benefit the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia and Guiding Star home for women and children.

Visiting Guiding Star

I visited Guiding Star yesterday as part of a day of service; my first service visit in a few years. Guiding Star is a refuge for mothers and children in North Philadelphia who want a choice other than abortion in response to pregnancy, and it’s a particularly vital place for mothers whose partners or family make choosing life an impossibility. Guiding Star and places like it around the country exist to serve women in a way that Planned Parenthood should be emulating, because Guiding Star and places like it represent real and life-affirming choice.

It was good to be at Guiding Star, and to spend time with some of those living there and some of those volunteering from across Greater Philadelphia. As a board member of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, which manages Guiding Star, I see financial statements and operational reports every quarter, but I rarely get the sort of personal experience of the place as I did yesterday.

Trocadero

The Trocadero in Philadelphia closed recently. Danya Henninger writes:

The Trocadero Theatre, a mainstay on the Philly concert circuit for nearly four decades, appears to be closing for good.

Even before ownership confirmed the shutdown, which was first reported by Philly Mag based on comments from promoters and staff, fans across city began sharing their laments for the gritty Chinatown venue.

Its most famous recent splash was as the site of a 2014 comedy show recording that became a key factor in the chain of events that led to Bill Cosby’s conviction for sexual assault.

Originally opened in the late 1800s as the Arch Street Opera House, the theater hosted vaudeville and minstrel shows. It then became a popular destination for burlesque, and also showed movies. A century after it first opened, in 1986, the historically-designated space was remodeled and turned into a concert hall-slash-dance club.

Though it wasn’t ever the fanciest spot (or the cleanest), the Troc’s central location — right off the corner of 10th and Arch — helped it become a defining part of Philadelphia nightlife.

Bands who stopped there before blowing up include Guns N’ Roses, Bob Dylan and Die Antwoord. The main event stage and the balcony bar hosted everything from wholesome school fundraisers to psychedelic PEX parties, grungy tribute concerts and slick TV specials.

I had only been to the Trocadero maybe three times, and all while at Archbishop Wood. The first time I went, I was leaving from my grandmother’s house. When I told her where I was going, she raised her eyebrows and asked what I was planning to do there. I forget the concert. “When I was about your age, the Trocadero was a burlesque house.”

I would guess it’s likely to re-open at some point, but who knows.

Jack Bogle, RIP

Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard, has died. Art Carey and Erin Arvedlund report:

John C. Bogle, 89, who revolutionized the way Americans save for the future, championed the interests of the small investor, and railed against corporate greed and the excesses of Wall Street, died of cancer Wednesday at his home in Bryn Mawr, his family confirmed.

Mr. Bogle, a chipper and unpretentious man who invited everyone to call him “Jack,” was founder and for many years chairman of the Vanguard Group, the Malvern-based mutual-fund company, where he pioneered low-cost, low-fee investing and mutual funds tied to stock-market indexes. These innovations, reviled and ridiculed at first, enabled millions of ordinary Americans to build wealth to buy a home, pay for college, and retire comfortably.

Along the way, Vanguard, which Mr. Bogle launched in 1974, became a titan in the financial-services industry, with 16,600 employees and over $5 trillion in assets by the end of 2018, and Mr. Bogle earned a reputation as not only an investing sage but a maverick whose integrity and old-fashioned values set an example that many admired and few could match.

“Jack could have been a multibillionaire on a par with Gates and Buffett,” said William Bernstein, an Oregon investment manager and author of 12 books on finance and economic history. Instead, he turned his company into one owned by its mutual funds, and in turn their investors, “that exists to provide its customers the lowest price. He basically chose to forgo an enormous fortune to do something right for millions of people. I don’t know any other story like it in American business history.” …

While Mr. Bogle was facile with numbers, he was much less interested in counting than in what counts, and his intellectual range was broad. He revered language, history, poetry, and classical wisdom, and frequently amazed and delighted people by reciting long passages of verse. …

Mr. Bogle had hoped that the Vanguard model — “structurally correct, mathematically correct, and ethically correct” — would goad other investment firms to give customers a fairer shake. While index funds have become widely popular, Vanguard’s competitors often have been less than keen about following the company’s penny-pinching lead. …

When he was not touting the advantages of the Vanguard mode of investing, Mr. Bogle, a self-proclaimed “battler by nature,” was lambasting his professional brethren for “rank speculation,” reckless assumption of debt, “obscene” multimillion-dollar paychecks, and golden parachutes, and saying they had abdicated their duty as stewards in favor of self-interested salesmanship. …

Along the way, Mr. Bogle attracted his share of critics. He was called a communist, a Marxist, a Bolshevik, a Calvinist scold and zealot, a holier-than-thou traitor and subversive who was undermining the pillars of capitalism with un-American rants. Mr. Bogle characterized his pugnacious relationship with the financial industry as “a lover’s quarrel.” His mission, he said, was simple: to return capitalism, finance, and fund management to their roots in stewardship. …

A man who believed in the value of introspection and who was always questioning his own motives and behavior, Mr. Bogle sought to define what it means to lead a good life. It was not about wealth, power, fame and other conventional notions of success, he concluded.

“It’s about being a good husband, a good father, a good colleague, a good member of the community. Everything else pales by comparison. The accumulation of material goods is a waste — you can’t take them with you, anyway — and the waste is typified by our financial system. The essential message is, stop focusing on self and start thinking about service to others.”

When I was in Philadelphia this past weekend I happened at one point to be speaking with a Vanguard person, and asked about Jack Bogle. “He still comes into the office, still eats in the cafeteria with everyone else. He’s the most down-to-earth man.”

Jack Bogle forged Vanguard’s incredible reputation, and through index funds provided generations of average Americans the means to save and invest. My grandmother was one of those Vanguard disciples, and her frugality and farsightedness helped make possible a comfortable retirement for my grandparents and helped provide for the family over the years.

Antonio García Martinez reflected in light of Bogle’s death: “One of the key emptinesses at the core of modern secular liberalism is a convincing answer to the question: what is a good life? The ability to attain a felt (or acknowledged) dignity, irrespective of high or low material attainments, is an essential component of a sane society. The Greeks of course had their best minds wrestle with the question. We don’t dare even ask it anymore.”

RIP.

‘Architecture is the only truly public form of art’

In Philadelphia this weekend, and stopped in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul briefly this morning. Pairing views from that visit with Jake Scott’s writing on beauty in architecture:

Architecture is the only truly public form of art. All other styles of art exist in a dedicated space. Paintings adorn walls within galleries that we may choose to enter, just as we may choose to take replicas home with us; music is not constant, it must be played in order to be appreciated and, out of respect for one another, we confine our enjoyment of our music to our spaces, be it in communion in a concert, or alone in our bedrooms; television and film are much the same, and theatre performances even more so.

But architecture exists all around us all the time. When we walk down the street, we are surrounded by architecture—in the fact, the very existence of a street is a creation of architecture. Consequently, when we are forced to interact with art in our every day life, it is only necessary that we ask that art to be good; when we look at buildings, we want them to look back, to make us feel welcome, and not be faced with an impersonal, expressionless façade. Even the term façade is misleading, since a façade contains an expression within it.

The consequence of bad architecture, therefore, is to make us feel less at home, as if the buildings glare at us as we go about our business, making an urban space into a place where no one feels welcome. Even in these spaces, our eyes are not drawn up to marvel at the wonder around us, but instead forced down to stare at the pavement, or off into the distance. …

Each building has a voice, and each city, town, or village is merely a collection of those voices. The more poetic among us might compare it to a choir; each voice has its own note, yet the harmony of the whole takes precedence; and so, when a new voice is added to the choir, it must remember this, and do its best to respect that harmony rather than disrupt it.

30th Street Station and its Solari board

When I passed through 30th Street Station last week, I shot this short clip of the Amtrak “Solari” board. I had read in Billy Penn that it is set to be replaced in January:

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission expects to take ownership of the world-famous Solari board as soon as January 2019. The model, which flips individual panels each time a train’s status is updated, providing that classic “clicking” sound familiar to travelers around the globe, is considered an antique. …

At that point, the sign will move 60 miles to its new home: The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. …

Amtrak officials confirmed the expected January move date to the Inquirer and Daily News on Thursday. The installation of digital signage will begin in December, per that report, with displays installed above the stairways that lead to platforms. …

Display panels of this type are named for the manufacturer Solari di Udine, of Udine, Italy. They grew in popularity in the 1950s, and were installed en masse in airports and train stations worldwide. Even early seasons of game shows like Family Feud used them.

Now, they’re nearly extinct in the United States. To mixed emotions, New York Penn Station got rid of its Solari board two years ago. The entire Metro-North transit system replaced its network of Solari boards by 2014.

That Philadelphia’s is still around could stem from the fact that the city got into the game a little late: 30th Street Station didn’t install its flippy board until the 1970s.

“It’s an amazing time capsule,” Morrison told Billy Penn. “The sounds of a board like this one have been the soundtrack of the daily life of many Philadelphia commuters and travelers for more than three decades.”

I’m not particularly nostalgic about this, but it is the end of one technological era and the beginning of another. Better things to be appreciative about at 30th Street Station, in both the Spirit of Transportation and Angel of the Resurrection. 30th Street is a great Philadelphia public space that’s always open, that elevates those who pass through it, and that has something of the feel of a sacred place, a public place that’s still quiet in the middle of the day where it’s possible to be more or less alone with your thoughts even while you’re waiting to head someplace. It’s the sort of place that feels confident, and where the architecture and atmosphere encourage something from those who pass through in a way that many other public spaces do not.