You step into view of two armies facing off, one on either shore of the Concord River. Red uniformed soldiers match fire with everyday farmers defending their homes. The shriek of their muskets and shouts of the men charging toward the Old North Bridge fill the air. Smoke from their weapons curls into enormous clouds that overwhelm the once-serene Massachusetts landscape. A redcoat bends in half, clutching his stomach. The others retreat.
This is only one of a multitude of historical experiences, called “The War Begins – 1775.” It is a projected painting that comes alive when you pass the entryway. Encased underneath is a crossbeam from that very bridge, preserved over the centuries to be wondered at by those who cherish, today, the freedoms fought for long ago. From exhibits “Becoming Revolutionaries – 1760 to 1775” to “A New Nation – 1783 to present,” this is the Museum of the American Revolution.
The heart of the museum resides at the top of a majestic staircase on the second floor. Four entryways allow you to come and go from the winding gallery that leads you through one fascinating experience to another. The Museum brilliantly balances interactive displays with reading materials, showcased artifacts, and recreated scenes. It is so well-designed that the flow of visitors is steadily lured to the next adventure, yet all exhibits are segregated from one another in such a way that the museum never feels crowded nor is its surprisingly vast expanse overwhelming.
But don’t worry if you are not a Revolutionary War scholar – there is a film entitled “Revolution” on the first floor to orient you. A small contingent of friendly, enthusiastic staff will also happily share their wealth of knowledge with you. Children ages five to twelve will become history-savvy after enjoying “Revolutionary Place,” a discovery zone on the lower level with four recreated environments.
Some of my favorite experiences include the following. In the Boston’s Liberty Tree rotunda, numerous artifacts tucked away in drawers that you can slide open and writings pertaining to the pre-War protests surround a reproduction of America’s oldest Liberty Tree. Embedded its faux bark, and available for patrons to touch, is a piece of the original Boston Elm that heard the passionate debate of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty. An interactive screen that comprises an entire wall allows you to explore the aspects of that period that interest you most. Also included in the exhibit is a signed first edition copy of collected poetry, published in 1773 and written by Phillis Wheatley, an enslaved African American woman.
Available until September 5, 2022, is a temporary exhibit of artist Don Troiani’s magnificent paintings, along with his extraordinary personal collection of period weapons such flintlock muskets, soldiers’ uniforms, and other necessities of battle. Anyone who has studied the War has, at some point, seen Troiani’s famous pieces. He is the Norman Rockwell of our time, gifted with his visual storytelling ability, breathing into existence once again the people who endured this uncertain and violent period through the details of the painted scenes and expressive faces. No photograph can do justice to the use of light and emotion of these images that brought me to tears, despite my familiarity with his artwork. It is an experience not to be missed!
Naturally, however, I sat in silenced awe in viewing the Museum’s self-proclaimed crown jewel – the restored war tent of General George Washington. Winner of the 2017 Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Award in Preservation Planning, a talented team of structural engineers, historians, tailors, conservationists, and curators designed a multi-media display for this precious and newly-restored artifact. The theater showcasing this wonder invites spectators to imagine the harsh winters and violent atmosphere that snapped those same flax linen walls that sheltered the General while he slept and conferred with his fellow officers in the hopes of discovering a path to victory. Truly magnificent.
For those who cannot travel to witness the living history or numerous public events held within these physical walls, the Museum offers a number of virtual programs through their website such as the exhibit, “When Women Lost the Vote” and “Finding Freedom.” The latter is an exploration of African American men and women in Revolutionary Virginia, which won the 2021 bronze-level Media & Technology MUSE award from the American Alliance of Museums. A trip worth taking.
Here is a few helpful tidbits for those planning a pilgrimage to Philadelphia. The museum is reasonably priced, making it accessible to guests of this history-enrichened, and therefore touristy, area. Ordering tickets online will save you some coin. In 2021, a Family Four-Pack was only $51.00. Adult tickets were $19.00 each. Children ages five and under were free. Please check the museum’s website for current pricing.
There is not a dedicated parking lot or garage; however, because the Museum is within easy walking distance of other main historical attractions, such as Independence Square, it is advisable to stay within the Old City and leave your car behind.
There are four entryways to the permanent exhibits’ gallery on the second floor. Look for the sign that points you to the start of the timeline, which is on the far end of the landing. Cross Keys Café, located on the first floor, is an excellent place to get lunch and a barista-prepared coffee. Be certain to leave time for the gift shop, also on the first floor, a fine purveyor of excellent souvenirs. It is not open beyond the museum gallery hours. I recommend samples from period coffees, teas, and other food stuffs. Most of all, have fun and be comfortable with the idea that you will not get to see everything in one trip. It just means you have an “excuse” to visit again!
Third & Chestnut Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19106
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Kiersten Marcil is an author and adventurer into history. Originally, her family hails from New England, having journeyed to the Americas on the Mayflower. Today, she resides in the picturesque regions of Upstate New York. You can join her on her visual exploration of our past on Instagram, which focuses primarily but not exclusively on the American Revolutionary War. Learn about her historical fantasy/romance series, The Enlightened, which will be published in late 2022, at her website: www.kierstenmarcil.com.