Philadelphia puts sparkle into July 4th celebrations

Fri Jul 1, 2011 2:55pm EDT
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By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Life!) - Other U.S. cities may have fireworks, parades and concerts but Philadelphia, the cradle of American independence, hopes to make the city synonymous with the July 4th Independence Day holiday.

Feelings run deep in the City of Brotherly Love that the holiday has special significance here because it is where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written, where Presidents George Washington and John Adams lived and the home of the Liberty Bell.

The city has turned the holiday into an 11-day "Welcome America" festival, which is expected to attract a million visitors, and which it hopes will make July 4th in Philadelphia what New Year's Eve in Times Square is to New York.

"We have something really great here now, there's nothing fake about it," said Melanie Johnson, the executive director of the festival. "We have the most historic square mile in the country."

The July 4th holiday marks the signing of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776, which set the stage for cutting ties with Great Britain.

The addition to the traditional fireworks, the Philadelphia festival will include food fares, music, a concert by the Philadelphia Pops orchestra and readings from the Declaration of Independence on the steps of Independence Hall, where it was written.

The hall, built in 1756, is the center of the historic district of the city. Across the street is Independence Mall, which houses the Liberty Bell, and the National Constitution Center.

In a relatively new part of the mall an exhibit about the nation's first executive mansion, simply called the President's House, documents both the sense of freedom felt in the new nation, and the legacy of slavery that was part of colonial America.

Franklin Court, on the site of what had been the home of founding father Benjamin Franklin, now houses a museum and exhibits about Franklin. Visitors can also see the house where Betsy Ross, the woman credited with sewing the first American flag in 1777, lived in Philadelphia.

"I'm really proud about what 'Welcome America' is," said Johnson.