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Monday, 9 July 2007

Free at Last?

Independence Hall Unchained

By Richard Carreño
Philadelphia:-- Just in time for the Fourth of July, Independence Mall got a get-out-of-jail card.

Draconian measures that hunkered down the Hall and its environs, in the wake of 9/11, have largely been lifted. Sanity has trumped paranoia -- finally!

After the 9/11 bombings, the National Park Service (NPS), following George Bush's lead -- be afraid, be very afraid -- locked down the Hall, the Liberty Bell pavilion, and the Hall's access paths. Chestnut Street was closed. Bollards, erected. Bicycle racks -- yes, those well-know protective shields, bicycle racks! - were arranged around the immediate perimeter of the grounds.

The NPS even managed to find some armed goons to intimidate and harass tourists and Philadelphians alike -- if they got too close to the shrine. Visiting the historic site required a timed ticket, a pass through a metal detector, and a visual inspection of bags. Lots of lost time. And ugly looks from the goons.

As for viewing the Liberty Bell --Ding! Ding! Ding!: Never have so many come from so far to see so little -- basically a waste of time.

NPS's idea was to convert the Mall a historical amusement park community, akin to a colonial Disneyland --- with the Service as gatekeeper and chief warden, of course..

After an outcry from locals, the NPS begrudgingly opened Chestnut Street to vehicular traffic a couple of years ago.

I learned last week, that the Service has also retreated from some of the the other onerous, blunderbuss measures that enchained and imprisoned the Mall in a shroud of fear -- the staple of the Bush Administration's alledged War on Terror.

Frank Bompadre and I were visiting the Anthaneum, on Washington Square, the other morning. After were told that original premises of the library were in he building that now houses the exhibition space of the American Philosophical Society, we decided to visit that place, too.

The building, in 5th Street on the east side of the Hall's south courtyard, also once housed Charles Wilson Peale's Museum of Oddities and was, in fact, the APS's first home. As a member of he APS's Friends of he Library, I've been to the building many times before. But it was Frank's first time.

As usual, I had my briefcase checked. No surprise. That came later when we discovered that we could enter the Hall's courtyard by the APS building's rear exit.

Freed at last? OK. Not quite. The Hall is still a gated community. But no more frisking. No more lines to pass through a metal detector. And, as important, no more suspicious, tough-guy looks from armed guards.

Maybe -- just maybe -- the NPS is returning to its roots, those I used to know and admire and those TR created