Sunday I made my (surprisingly) first trip to the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, PA. Though it’s not the home of the U.S. Constitution, which resides in the National Archives, Washington, D.C. – it is the home of a lot of exhibits that celebrate the Constitution and Bill of Rights. It is not a typical museum in the sense that it is not just a collection of artifacts to be admired; the displays all contribute to the story of the U.S. Constitution. Its purpose is primarily educational and secondarily cultural. It is also a living institution hosting various public discussions, debates, and forums.
The history of our Constitution is inexorably linked to the history of our country itself. Just about every important moment in U.S. history, therefore, receives some coverage at the Center, from the American Revolution to the Civil War, to Watergate. Civil rights, of course, is a major topic with many displays touching on subjects such as slavery, woman’s suffrage, and workers’ rights.
It is full of interactive touch-screen exhibits. A series of such displays lets you find out if you would have been able to vote in various eras throughout American history. Another one is a mock voting booth that lets you decide issue by issue between two randomly selected candidates. In my case, the choice was between Ronald Reagan and Barak Obama. (No surprise, Reagan would have gotten my vote.)
Another permanent exhibition and possibly the most identified with the Center is Signers’ Hall a collection of 42 life-sized bronze sculptures of those Founding Fathers who attended the constitutional convention in Philadelphia. Are you as tall as George Washington? Find out! Want a photo-op with Ben Franklin? You can do that.
That brings me to one of my few complaints about the Center, photography is not allowed in many of the exhibit halls, the Signers’ Hall being the major exception.
Like most museums, it has special, temporary exhibitions. Those at the Center of course, have to do with government. The one there at the moment has to do with the Kennedy Presidency aka Camelot.
The National Constitution Center is in the heart of Philadelphia’s historic district, a short walk away from other historic sites such as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the Philadelphia Mint, just to name a few. Ample public transportation is available, so no excuses not to visit if you’re in the area!