Visiting the Museum of the American Revolution

The Museum of the American Revolution (also affectionately known as MAR) opened on April 19, 2017. It is conveniently located just two blocks away from Independence Hall, and near other historical sites such as the Liberty Bell, the National Constitution Center, the American Philosophical Society, and the Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery.

The MAR was originally going to be located at Valley Forge, but by negotiating and discussion, a land swap commenced which changed the location of MAR to be located in Old City, Philadelphia. This is the first museum dedicated to the American Revolution in Philadelphia. This fact surprises me since Philadelphia holds so much crucial history concerning the American Revolution, but I am pleased nevertheless that MAR is located in Philly.

On Thursday, July 20 I had the opportunity to visit Philadelphia – to be more specific, Old City, Philadelphia. I am fortunate to live only a mere hour away from Philadelphia, and have been able to visit the city on multiple occasions, although the reasons for such visits have been solely to see the Philadelphia Orchestra perform. It was therefore a new and exciting adventure to be able to visit the recently opened and still new-smelling MAR.

Old City, Philadelphia is a charming place with even more charming houses that line the cobblestone streets. Potted plants and cheerful flowers stood diligently in the blazing sun as I made my way towards the museum. Towards the entrance, a musician dressed in colonial clothes played the violin and then the flute. A Benjamin Franklin puppet happily danced to the tune.

When you first walk into the lobby, you feel the cool breeze of air – a refreshing sensation to me since it was nearly 95 degrees. Interpreters are there, strolling about and talking about their lives and experience to curious visitors. Look to the right, and you will see a gorgeous staircase that will lead you to the second floor where the exhibits are. On the ground floor, that is to say the floor that you first enter, the museum shop and café is to the right. On the left is where you can dress in colonial clothes and see some tents.

I took the guided highlights tour which lasted an hour, and involved walking around the exhibits. The tour guide was friendly, and was eager to answer any questions. The information that was conveyed about the American Revolution was the basics, the kind of information that one learns in high school. (What was the Stamp Act? What was the Tea Act? Did “all men are created equal” really mean all men?) As a current history major who possesses a particular interest and passion for the American Revolution, the information that the tour guide provided was elementary although, since I was out of the academic mindset thanks to summer vacation, it was nevertheless a good review. In regards to time management, the tour group felt quite rushed towards the end. In addition, many tours were happening and so it was difficult to maneuver around the space, and at certain times was a challenge to hear the tour guide.

My conclusion is the following: For those who are hardcore history buffs and know the ins and outs of the American Revolution, perhaps the highlight tour may not be ideal. However, if you would like a “refresher” on the American Revolution, would like to a few artifacts of importance in the exhibits be emphasized, or would like to get a “lay of the land’ and become familiar with the structure of the exhibits, this tour may be ideal for you.  

There is much to see in the museum, and I believe that one could spend a whole day without seeing and reading completely everything. One of the features that I especially like is that the museum hopes to have half of their collection on display to be permanent, while the other half is on loan. This way the museum’s collections do not stay static, and people who do visit again will be able to see some new features. The collection is well developed and the museum has clearly thought out how they want to tell the story of the American Revolution. The story is told in chronological order, and emphasizes that the War for Independence did not just occur in 1776 and 1777. No, this event was a long lasting event, and its effects are still echoing till this day. MAR also wants to inform you that events concerning the War for Independence didn’t just happen in the Americas. In one exhibit room, half of a ship is built (that you can board) and the staff there are happy to tell you all about seapower. When you first enter the room, if you look to the left, a map is shown with all the seapower occurrences. The colonies are of course included, but so is India and South America.

There are a couple important features that I want to include in this post. To start off, the museum made sure to include topics that are more difficult to talk about. What exactly do I mean? One of the biggest things that caught my attention was the dedication to tell about Native American involvement during the American Revolution – mainly the Oneida Nation. An employee told me that the Oneida Nation contributed around $10 million dollars and were heavily involved with the process of planning MAR. While I may be knowledgeable about the American Revolution, the information that was included about the Native Americans was new to me. I had never really learned just how much a role Native Americans had in war during my elementary or high school years. One of the difficulties the museum faced was the lack of actual artifacts. Instead, they used the power of oral history with the assistance of only a few artifacts to tell the story of the Native Americans involvement.

Another difficult topic was slavery and Dunmore’s proclamation that if the slaves fought on the side of the British, they would be rewarded with freedom. This time, the museum used the power of technology and allowed you to read the story of five individual figures who were slaves, and what their ultimate decision was in regards to fighting in the war.

While I loved the museum as a whole, there were a couple of artifacts on display that really made an impact on me. The first was a portrait of George Washington. In the painting he is wearing a blue sash. Harvard was generous enough to loan the museum the actual, tangible, blue silk sash that he had worn. The portrait and sash are displayed together, something (according to the tour guide) that has probably not happened in at least 200 years. Unfortunately, as I have written before, the silk blue sash is a loan and will only be there temporarily.

Another artifact on display is George Washington’s War Tent which, I am happy to say, is part of the permanent collection. To see the tent you must go into the theater on the second floor, which shows “Washington’s War Tent.” Once in the theater, a short movie plays explaining the significance of the tent and how it was acquired. Once the movie is close to finishing, the screen rises and the war tent is revealed. Since this particular artifact is delicate and sensitive, no photography what so ever is permitted. However, to be able to even just see it with your own eyes is a wonderful experience. The whole presentation moved me, and was very well done.

To conclude, (I don’t want this post to be too long) my experience visiting the Museum of the American Revolution was completely and utterly enjoyable. I was pleased at how the museum decided to tell the story of the American Revolution, and appreciated how they combined artifacts and technology to tell the story. I hope to be able to visit this museum again very soon.

Q: Have you visited MAR yet? If so, what are your thoughts?





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