Philadelphia remained me how small are the places where big things happened. The first continental congress gathered together in a beautiful little hall that is smaller than some of my friend’s houses. The whole historic district can be walked through in ten minutes.
It’s more about the meaning we give to things. The broken bell that was hanging in the city hall is now a trademark for liberty, and now it has its own building for display.
Another crowded venue is The Independence Hall, the place where the declaration of independence was signed. The portrait of John Trumbull is so iconic that people buy tickets and form in line to see it. The reality is that such meeting never happened; the delegates signed the document at different times, but that is not romantic enough, so the artist rewrote history for himself and now is his vision the one that inspires.
The more museums I visit, the scarier I get by realizing how much we rely on imagination. We are so dependent that we need to imagine independence.
The separation of the colonies from England was nothing but a matter of common sense, as Paine put it. The real miracle for this country was to survive to itself. The fight against England proved to be politically shorter, militarily easier and less bloody than the fight that followed between the North and the South. But that story is harder to tell because there can’t be “bad guys” at the end. That is closer to reality as you can get, and no artist can represent the Union smashing the Confederates and been politically correct at the same time. The real heroism, in this case, was diplomatic: We are talking about legions of men butchering each other face to face during four years and then coming together to form the strongest federation in the world. Scenes of war are easier to paint since they can be delimited on time. The fight for tolerance is permanent and intern. No bell has toll yet for that victory.