Tuesday, October 17, 2017


The Museum of the American Revolution is an interesting place. Not just because of their take on the war, but the way they structured their first large public event: Occupied Philadelphia. The museum's forecourt became a public market, with the 17th Regiment of Foot and the 40th Foot's Light Company quartered nearby. This would have been enough for most sites.

Instead, visitors got a packet of Continental currency to spend, a list of questions to ask the 18th century inhabitants, even a rebel spy master collecting intelligence should they choose the Whig cause. At left, Ruth Hodges (the shoe black,) and Kitty (the servant/thief/fence) discuss the price of stolen clothing. The 17th arrested Kitty soon after. The public learned their paper money was worthless as the merchants only took British coin, plentiful since Lord Howe's Army arrived. Goods were scarce since the port was still blockaded by rebels. Tyler Putman, Matt Skic (the spy master) of belted waistcoat fame, and Katherine Becnel along with other museum staff kept things running smoothly.

Oliver is trying to decide if he wants to be a chimney sweep with Matt Mickletz, or join the British Army with Sgt. Andrew W Kirk and Pvt. Jeremy Becnel, as Asher Lurie looks on. The air was filled with the cries of tradespeople and merchants. Out-of-work sailors caused trouble and were rounded up. There was excellent food for the participants. Gossip and rumors circulated, while arrests and scuffles broke the peace. A little girl asked "Is this real?"

Muskets took a back seat. The wall between weirdly-dressed historians and the public crumbled under the weight thoughtful questions and street theater. Best of all, Saturday visitors came back Sunday and stayed for hours.  History is messy and complex, so was Occupied Philadelphia.