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This is a truly strange building with some interesting and exciting activities for kids like the elevator ride up the tower. On one blustery day, we could see the wind turning a crane on top of a nearby skyscraper.
You could easily overlook City Hall because it's a seven-story building designed to look like a three story building: the elongated two-story windows helped maintain the context of low houses in which City Hall was originally built. Even so, Philadelphia City Hall was designed to be the tallest building in the world, and, at 88 million bricks, it is still the world's highest masonry load-bearing structure.
Milne Calder, the grandfather of artist Alexander Calder, created over 250 sculptures which adorn the building. While these are from the "low period" of sculptory which contained actual faces and recognizable symbols, I found the sculptures strikingly beautiful and the tour guide's explanations quite interesting. It would not be politically correct to admit what my nine-year-old son enjoyed about the sculptures. One council chamber contains keystones on each side of the room with visages of the four seasons of life: a young boy, a young woman, a middle-aged woman, and an old man, each compelling in its own way. You'd never know this stuff could be on a ceiling in the middle of Philadelphia.
Special features: City Hall, decorated with external clocks to inform the citizenry, contains a large, prominent, broken clock in the City Council chamber. The tour guide maintains the City Council Chamber is larger than the House of Commons. From the beginning, the history of cost-overruns on this building is stupendous: City Hall is a great place to teach children that government really knows how to spend money on itself. Also, many beautiful rooms and a great statue of George Washington in "Conversation Hall."
Phone: 215 686 2840 To get a tour brochure: Foundation for Architecture 215 569 3187
Scheduling: City Hall Tours: Mon-Fri 12:30 at the Information Center. Tower Tours: Mon - Fri 9:30 until 4:30. Tours leave every 15 minutes. Call ahead to reserve a spot -- it's a small elevator (6 people).
Cost: Parking in Philadelphia. Tours are free.
Directions: Take 95 from Lawrenceville south toward Philadelphia. Steer your car toward that big guy standing in the middle of the city on top of City Hall. Park underground nearby and take the free tour of this unusual building.
I first noticed this Revolutionary Fort when taking off from Philadelphia Airport. It's practically a ghost, though: you think you've seen it, but nobody knows anything about it. One day, the kids and I had some serious time at the airport and a ticket lady gave us directions. Basically, you drive through industrial warehouses until you get to this big revolutionary war fort.
This was THE place to protect Philadelphia, and they used to sink specially-designed barges with oversized spikes in the channel to block enemy ships. In 1777, the Siege of Fort Mifflin saw "the mightiest bombardment of the 18th century in North America." The British bombed all day, and the Americans rebuilt every night. After seven weeks, the British destroyed the Fort, and the fleeing Americans burned what was left on their way to Fort Mercer across the river. Fort Mifflin may have actually saved Washington's Army by preventing General Howe's naval support from reaching Philadelphia before winter set in.
Cost: $4 for adults, $3.50 senior citizens $2 for students with ID and children from 2 to 12.
Phone: Recording: 215 685 4192 Live: 215 492 1881
Scheduling: Call ahead for special events and times to see people in old clothing. Open 10 to 4 April 1 to Nov 30. Closed Mon and Tues. Father's Day - Pop's and Patriots: Dads are free. Mother's Day - Moms are free. April 27, 1997 Sea Battle - Midieval Day. May 10, 1997 Volunteer cleanup day. May 17th and 18th, 1997 Cival War Artillery Program.
Directions: South on 95 to Exit 13 (Enterprise and Island Ave). At end of exit, go left at Stop sign. You're on Island Ave, then follow signs for 1.5 minutes to Fort. Signs are on right of road.
Suggestions to proprietors: Call Church & Dwight and get them to sponsor baking soda torpedo demonstrations, perhaps include Fort Mifflin in commercials: "If baking soda can protect a nation, imagine what it will do for your teeth."
Special Features: The first night at the Red Caboose, I wanted to take the kids out, and the only place open was the Sight & Sound Theater with the popular stage show, "Noah!" Tickets were sold out months ahead, and we watched buses of the faithful unload. "Daddy, let's get OUT of here! I HATE waiting around to see this STUPID show!" my son screamed. "Ah, ye of little faith," I instructed. "Someone will sell us their tickets." And they did! This is not an historically correct (or even scripturally correct) show to be enjoyed by atheists, and it's even a little weird for Presbyterian-Methodists like me -- Christ himself makes an appearance at the end of the show -- but it is a grand production. My daughter is still convinced that there were elephants in the theater. At the beginning of the second act, curtains rise around the side walls to create the illusion that you are actually inside the ark. The show contains 350 actual or animatronic animals. Call now for tickets to the big Christmas spectacular.
Phone: Red Caboose 717-687-5000
Scheduling: Open all year round.
Directions: To the Red Caboose Motel: PA Turnpike to Exit 21, Route 222 south to Route 30 East to 896 South. Go to light in Strasberg (Route 741). Left onto 741, then left at crossroad. Suggestions for Proprietors: Tell Dale at the front desk that if someone calls from another state to ask about the history of the hotel that he refrain from suggesting that they buy the 99 cent book he has in his hand.
Suggestions for Readers: Call the front desk, ask for "Dale", and insist that he answer questions like "How many cabooses do you have there?", "Why do you call it the Red Caboose Motel?", and "Do any of the cabooses ever get loose in the middle of the night?"
Herr's gets a 10 on the friendliness scale: the people on the phones are helpful with directions, the tour guides are friendly, even the factory workers seem friendly. Not far from Lancaster, you'll pass horse and buggies driving nearby Route 272.
Kids seem to enjoy the goofy movie at the beginning of the tour about Chipper, Herr's stuffed mascot with a propensity to fall into the food. What's amazing about this place, though, is that you can run such a large factory with so few people. Herr's is a private company, but the guide mentions that they turn their $3 million inventory every 3 days, so you can figure at least $320 million for that factory (8500 pounds of potato chips an hour). Every once in a while, you'll see a machine operator wander through a room, but, for the most part, the spuds and pretzel dough are on their own. Depending on your political bent, you can point out to your child that (1) machines are taking our jobs! or (2) here's how American ingenuity can compete with slave wages around the world. Of course, Malaysians would also have a problem getting fresh potato chips to us here in New Jersey.
The tour takes about an hour with the movie -- then you can take your two complimentary chip bags and buy a hot dog in the visitor's center. Prices are reasonable, and the dining room clean and pleasant.
Phone: 1- 800-284-7488 Call ahead to reserve a spot on the tour.
Scheduling: Monday through Friday on the hour
Directions: Take 95 South past the Philadelphia Airport to 322 West. Get on Route 1 South (left), go past Longwood Gardens and other attractions until Route 1 becomes a broad highway. Get off at the Nottingham exit (Route 272) and make a left toward the factory and visitor's center. I once made the mistake of taking Route 1 all the way; traffic becomes horrendous around the Philadelphia Main Line; it takes about 45 longer that way. The drive is about 1.5 to 2 hours one way.
Suggestions for Proprietors: Stay open on Saturday. Isn't the factory open anyway? I can't believe you'd let such a huge investment in machinery sit idle for 52 days a year. Do an actual demonstration of how you dump potatoes out of a truck.
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