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Getting Your Philly

Not so for the show about the Bill of Rights.

What's not to understand about this: cartoonish Supreme Court figures stopping an unjust search and seizure by singing their order to the tune of "Stop! In the Name of Love." Or a woman, rhyming her words to a Gilbert and Sullivan tune, singing about how her 40-year sentence of playing continuous ping-pong while eating Brussels sprouts is cruel and unusual punishment.

The countdown of our Top 10 rights also includes a "Jeopardy!" game, with categories like "So Sue Me" for $100. When an animatronic James Madison misunderstands something another president says about freedom of speech and mistakenly calls out "Fire!" in the crowded theater, a siren goes off and the audience is hit with water from fire sprinklers.


At Philadelphia's Constitution Center, there are no ho-hum history lessons. (R. Kennedy/GPTMC)

In the hall, we are each filmed taking the presidential oath of office from a podium with a realistic backdrop of a famous audience -- one of 100 displays at the National Constitution Center, many of them interactive and all included in the cost of admission.

While the museum is scrupulously even-handed on most controversial issues, not so regarding immigration. A man and a woman on a TV screen debate the issue, circa 1924. Taking the side for large numbers of immigrants is a very intelligent, extremely sweet woman. Representing the opposing view: a racist buffoon who makes statements like "Certain races aren't meant to live like us."

Outside the center, we have a good view of a beautiful white church steeple. The kids with me show no interest at learning that the steeple was rebuilt after being blown onto the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. But they were extremely excited, and wanted to go see it, when they learned that it was the church featured in the movie "The Sixth Sense."

I, however, am leading onward about two blocks to the new Liberty Bell Center, visited by about a million people from around the world each year. The bell was moved from its old cramped home to this gleaming $12.9 million showcase of granite and marble in October.

The high walls inside are lined with reminders of those who adopted the Liberty Bell as a potent symbol of their longing for justice and freedom: abolishionists, suffragettes, U.S. civil rights leaders. Larger-than-life photographs show the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela posed next to the bell.

The first Liberty Bell, we learn, cracked the first time it was rung and was melted down and recast in 1753. In 1846, when being rung to commemorate George Washington's birthday, a crack grew and made the bell unringable. But its sound was broadcast to the nation on June 6, 1944, when Allied forces landed in France.

When you finally get to the Liberty Bell, it's a relatively tiny thing: only three feet from lip to crown. From the perspective of the grand chamber that's been built for it, it seems not much bigger than the bell used to call ranch hands to breakfast. And yet it's not a disappointment. Somehow, it seems appropriate that the bell is battered, modest and fragile.


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