Thursday, April 22, 2010

Freedom is a light...

So fortunate am I that I work a few blocks from Washington Square. On rare days when I can escape work I'll walk down to the park catty corner from Independence Hall. I feel sorry for those working in the antiseptic 'burbs.

William Penn had the foresight to create a "greene country towne", way back in 1683, by creating five squares in center city Philadelphia. Amazingly enough four are still there -- the 5th now occupied by City Hall.

Washington Square is lesser known than it's richer cousin, Rittenhouse Square, not as photographed as Logan Circle, and had no golf course like Franklin Square, but it does contain the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the Revolutionary War.

"Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness." Let us never forget the gift that has been given to us, and those who sacrificed to maintain liberty's flame.

For more on Washington Square click...Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The tomb of the Unknown Soldier itself bears the words: "Beneath this stone rests a soldier of Washington's army who died to give you liberty."

An eternal flame flickers in front of a wall bearing a replica of Jean Antoine Houdon's famous bronze sculpture of George Washington. Washington's eyes gaze eternally upon nearby Independence Hall.

By 1778, Washington Square would be the last barracks for the thousands of soldiers who died in Philadelphia. Though not much fighting occurred in Philadelphia during the War, plenty of dying did. Those wounded in nearby battles, or those sick with disease would be brought to Philadelphia. Pennsylvania Hospital and the Bettering House for the Poor filled quickly. Churches became ad-hoc hospitals. And during the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777, the Walnut Street Jail became a Dantesque vision of hell.

Historian Watson interviewed a survivor of the Walnut Street Jail some years after the War's end. The veteran, Jacob Ritter, recalled that prisoners were fed nothing for days on end and were regularly targets of beatings by the British guards. The prison was freezing as broken window panes allowed snow and cold to be the only blankets available to the captives. Ice, lice, and mice shared the cells. Desperate prisoners dined on grass roots, scraps of leather, and "pieces of a rotten pump." Rats were a delicacy. Upward of a dozen prisoners died daily. They were hauled across the street and slung in unmarked trenches like carcasses from an abattoir.

The Colonials reoccupied Philadelphia in 1778 and became the jailkeepers at Walnut Street. No doubt a Millgram (where prisoners became the guards) atmosphere prevailed when the prisoners got to run the jail. Suffice it to say, many bodies of British soldiers also are interred in Washington Square, sleeping far from Albion's shores.

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