While Boston awaits a decision on whether its lightly funded history museum will be designated as developer of a state-owned parcel of land on the Greenway, Philadelphia is marching ahead with its own plans for yet another destination museum.
Philadelphia and Boston share a portfolio as America’s Revolutionary hubs; Massachusetts has the Boston Tea Party, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the shot heard ’round the world; Pennsylvania has the Liberty Bell, the Declaration of Independence, and the cruel winter at Valley Forge.
But while Boston’s Freedom Trail, replete with a renovated Tea Party Museum, is a major tourist attraction, Philadelphia has done a better job promoting its history. Its 55-acre colonial downtown is a national park with a visitors’ center; its National Constitution Center is a major museum and hosts events like Barack Obama’s pivotal speech on race in 2008. Now, the city is adding a $150 million museum dedicated to the American Revolution. It will feature such heirlooms as George Washington’s tent and — ahem — the gun used by a Minuteman commander at Concord’s North Bridge. The museum is also generously supported, with a $40 million challenge grant from a cable-TV billionaire.
The proposed Boston Museum won’t cover the Revolution specifically, but would serve as an anchor for history-minded travellers to New England, touting the region’s fabled sites. Alas, it’s not so lavishly funded; local philanthropists are sitting on the sidelines, perhaps waiting to see whether the Patrick administration gives the museum the Greenway site. It should, but Massachusetts has only itself to blame when other states start presenting themselves as birthplaces of American history.