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.