This spring, two popular tours in Philadelphia are set to help relieve the public’s mounting cabin fever.
Beginning last April, Philadelphians could once again pay their respects to the peacefully resting residents of Christ Church Burial Grounds. Located at the corner of 5th and Arch streets, the Burial Grounds houses about 1,400 graves on two leafy acres. Historic dignitaries of yore like Benjamin Franklin and 10 former mayors of Philadelphia claim this historic Colonial and Revolutionary-era graveyard as their eternal residence.
The associated Church, which is located four blocks from the Burial Grounds at 2nd Street, above Market Street, once accommodated the pious likes of Betsy Ross, George Washington, Dr. Benjamin Rush and John Penn, William Penn’s grandson. Its steeple, financed by a lottery organized by Ben Franklin, was the tallest structure in the colonies for 83 years.
The Burial Grounds were cordoned off 25 years ago to protect its gravestones from further deterioration. But the Christ Church Preservation Trust, formed in 1965 to preserve its namesake, has renovated the Burial Grounds, repairing broken gravestones and taming the plant life.
“The worst imaginable thing for history is to keep people away,” said Neil Ronk, historian and head guide for the Christ Church Preservation Trust. “The Church thought it was preserving the Burial Grounds by keeping it locked up, but the best way to preserve it is to bring it to the public. People know what they have in the community and will preserve it themselves.”
The Burial Grounds are open year-round and are free for visitors. Informative tours are offered four times daily at a reasonable price, $3 per adult and $2 for students. For 35 minutes, historians/guides offer facts and anecdotes about the deceased as well as a portrait of colonial life.
“We try to place people in the context of their lives,” Ronk said. “We cannot talk about them without referencing the world they lived in.”
Tours run Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
In their 26th year, the Philadelphia Open House tours intimately showcase the region’s most popular and charming destinations. These unique tours are scheduled in citizens’ private homes and gardens where passerby can be politely, and unabashedly, nosy.
The tours are organized and partly funded by the Friends of Independence National Historic Park, a Philadelphia citizens group that also monitors the welfare of city treasures like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The Friends offer these tours each spring to fundraise, as well as trumpet Philadelphia’s native allure.
Some tours are straightforward introductions to regional neighborhoods and destinations like Northern Liberties and the University of Pennsylvania. Others are designed around a theme, such as Bankers of Philadelphia or Exercise Your Rights (and Lefts), a survey of the distemper among Loyalists and Rebels circa the Revolutionary War. One tour in South Philly, called Artist’s Studio, throws viewers into the feverish intensity of Philadelphia’s teeming art world.
“We like to give the people something different each year,” said Christian Varquez, programming director for the Friends.
Three types of tours are offered: self-guided, guided and motor coach. The self-guided and guided tours restrict themselves to Philadelphia proper, whereas the motor coach tours venture further, even to New Jersey. During self-guided tours, people can amble through a dozen or so private homes at their leisure in about 3 hours. Guided and motor coach tours’ itineraries are prearranged and last 3 hours or 8 hours, respectively.
About 30 people maximum can attend guided tours, but self-guided tours attract between 100 to 350 people.
“People come from all over the world to go on the tours,” Varquez said. “We do it to promote that hospitality feeling in Philadelphia.”
Tours run from $25 to $85. To obtain a brochure that lists all scheduled 2004 Philadelphia Open House tours, contact the Friends at (215) 928-2188.
Jacob Yeager can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org