What better way to celebrate US Independence Day then with a museum visit? Here are a few institutions you might consider visiting this holiday. I probably don’t have to tell you, but it is always a good idea to double check visiting hours before your visit.
If you have any other Fourth of July–appropriate suggestions we might not know about, please leave them in the comments.
Liberty Bell Center (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
The Liberty Bell may be one of the most iconic symbols of freedom in the United States. Made mostly of copper and tin, it is housed in the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia’s Center City.
Formerly placed in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House (now renamed Independence Hall), the bell was commissioned from the London firm of Lester and Pack (today the Whitechapel Bell Foundry) in 1752. It was cast with a quote from Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
The bell originally cracked when it was first rung after its arrival in Philadelphia, and it was twice recast by local workmen John Pass and John Stow.
According to Wikipedia:
The bell became famous after an 1847 short story claimed that an aged bell-ringer rang it on July 4, 1776, upon hearing of the Second Continental Congress’s vote for independence. Despite the fact that the bell did not ring for independence on that July 4, the tale was widely accepted as fact, even by some historians.
The bell only started to take on the nickname the “Liberty Bell” in the 19th century when abolitionists adopted it as a symbol and gave it that nickname starting in 1835. Before the 1830s it was more commonly known as the Old State House Bell or Independence Bell.
Market Street between 5th and 6th Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House (Baltimore, Maryland)
Built in 1793, the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House was the home of Mary Pickersgill, maker of the enormous 30-x-42-foot flag that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired Francis Scott Key’s famous poem that later became the US national anthem.
Mary and her daughter Caroline moved into the house in 1806, along with Mary’s mother, Rebecca Young, who began the flag-making business in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War.
The flag Mary Pickersgill made is on display at the Smithsonian Museum’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
844 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland
National Museum of American History (Washington, DC)
Not only does this Smithsonian Institution have the original flag by Mary Pickersgill but a vast collection that includes American samplers, national quilts, George Washington’s uniform, the Greensboro lunch counter, and so many other important objects and documents in the history of the United States of America.
The Museum features numerous temporary exhibitions, including Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963, which seems like a wonderful place to spend your day reflecting on what freedom truly means.
14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, New York)
The American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a great place to explore American history.
From Emanuel Leutze’s famous “Washington Crossing the Delaware” (1851) and numerous 18th and 19th century portraits of George Washington to the furniture of the early American Republic and colonial-era interiors, the types and diversity of American treasures feel endless in these stunningly beautiful galleries that were reopened only last year.
To give you a sense of the scale and quality of the collection, if the American Wing of the Met were a stand alone museum it would certainly be one of the most important museums in the country.
1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan
Visit One of 25 Copies of the Declaration of Independence
While it is estimated that about 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence were printed, only 25 copies are known to exist today.
Spread across the United States and the United Kingdom, the vast majority of the known copies are located in the Northeast United States.
A founding document of the American political tradition, the Declaration of Independence articulates many of the fundamental ideas that form the American nation, and it includes one of the most famous lines in American history, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Of course, this important document was written at a time when women could not vote and slavery was legal, but it formed a pivotal role in the ideological of a nascent nation that would become a symbol of freedom to the world in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Here is the most complete list of the locations for each of the 25 copies I could find. Please call or contact the institution to see if they are open on July 4 and if their copy is currently on display or accessible:
- National Archives, Washington, DC
- Library of Congress, Washington, DC (two copies)
- Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD
- University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA (two copies)
- Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia, PA
- American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
- Scheide Library, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ [The Library is privately owned.]
- New York Public Library, New York, NY
- Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, NY
- Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA
- Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
- Chapin Library, Williams College, Williamstown, MA
- Yale University, New Haven, CT
- American Independence Museum, Exeter, NH
- Maine Historical Society, Portland, ME
- Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
- Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, IL
- City of Dallas, City Hall, Dallas, TX
- Declaration of Independence Road Trip [Norman Lear and David Hayden]
- Unknown private collector
- Public Record Office, United Kingdom (two copies)