04.25.24 Editor’s Desk

I love my job and being able to do what I do here at Watermark is one of the greatest honors of my life; however, even those who love what they do need a break from time to time.

I am one of those people who pours their life into their work. My social life is almost entirely tied to the community I work in, with and for. Even trips over the last year or so have been work related, so I finally took one of those vacation things I hear people talking about all the time.

Last year, I had the privilege of being sent to Philadelphia for the Association of LGBTQ Journalists’ national convention, all expenses paid by the city’s tourism group, Visit Philadelphia. After I returned, I wrote in this very space about how much fun I had and all the amazing things I got to see and do in the City of Brotherly Love. My sister, who is a reader of history and loves visiting places that have historical and cultural significance, called me shortly after reading it and excitedly told me she wants to visit Philly, and we started planning the trip.

We were only there for four days but tried to get in as much sightseeing as we could. We took in all the usual sights: Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’ house, Elfreth’s Alley (the oldest continuously inhabited street in America), Benjamin Frankelin’s gravesite, but before we left, I reached out to my friends at Visit Philly to ask what other historical places we should check out while we were there.

One of the first places we visited was Shane Confectionery, America’s oldest continuously operating confectionery shop. Shane’s makes all of its chocolate in house and specializes in making a delightful cup of hot chocolate. Fun fact: during the birth of the U.S., hot chocolate was more commonly a breakfast drink, particularly enjoyed by President George Washington. His version of the drink was often flavored with chili powder, which is how we drank it and I cannot recommend it enough.

Another uncommon tourist attraction was recommended by my primary care doctor. I paid a visit to him ahead of the trip to get a few pills to help with my uneasiness with flying and found out he did his residency in Philadelphia. The good doctor suggested we check out the Mütter Museum and Historical Medical Library, a museum featuring human remains and rare medical cases. Exhibits there include “The Soap Lady,” a woman whose body was exhumed in Philadelphia in 1875 and is covered in a fatty substance called adipocere giving the body a soap-like, mummified appearance; the skeletons of Harry Eastlack and Carol Orzel, two individuals who lived with Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva; the 139-piece human skull collection of anatomist Josef Hyrtl and more. The museum also has on display a collection of conjoined twins, which proved to be too much for my sister.

The most impactful stop for both of us on the trip was our visit to the Johnson House Historic Site in the city’s Germantown neighborhood. Germantown is one of the oldest settlements in Philadelphia and the Johnson House was an Underground Railroad Station in the 1800s. Owned by Jennett Rowland Johnson and her husband Samuel, the Johnsons were Quaker abolitionists who opened their home to slaves seeking freedom in the north.

A plaque stands firm on a post in front of the Johnson House, reading “Built in 1768 for John Johnson, this was home to three generations of a Quaker family who worked to abolish slavery and improve living conditions for freed African Americans. In the 1850s the house was a station on the Underground Railroad. Here and in smaller buildings on the property, men and women escaping slavery found shelter on their way to freedom.” Plaques like these, describing historical events, can be found throughout the city and with each one I came across, I was dumbfounded by the fact that people live and walk along roads every day where so many significant moments happened.

Touring through the house, the guide told us how much of it is original, including the doors, which you can see the patched-up holes from gunfire during the Revolutionary War, and the floorboards, which were walked on by some of the most important and significant people in the Underground Railroad, such as William Still, often called the “Father of the Underground Railroad,” and the most well-known individual from the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman.

Walking on the very same floorboards that these giants of history walked on adds a weight to what you are seeing. Places like the Johnson House are an important piece to the history of this country and should be visited in Philly as much as the Liberty Bell and the Rocky statue. If you’re ever in Philadelphia, I cannot stress enough how much you should put the Johnson House on your itinerary. If you are not planning a trip to Philly anytime soon, you can still support the Johnson House by donating at JohnsonHouse.org.

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