Johnny and cannon on Little Round Top

The history of our nation - and its future

Johnny & Dick's Pennsylvania Adventure


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Background     Traveling     Game     Gettysburg     Philadelphia     Heading Home


Background: Around 1995 my grandson, Johnny Upshaw, began playing youth hockey at the local rink in Fresno. At the same time, he became a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins, largely because they were led by Mario Lemieux, a star player most consider the second best ever after Wayne Gretzky. They also boasted a rising star in Jaromir Jagr, who, amazingly, is still playing at a high level at age 44.

Every hockey fan's dream is to see their team on home ice, but until March 20, 2016, Johnny had to be content with traveling to San Jose when the Penguins played the Sharks. Finally, after I took his younger brother to see HIS favorite team, the Colorado Avalanche in Denver, Johnny and I scheduled a trip to Pennsylvania, where the Penguins would host their hated rival and number one team in the league, the Washington Capitals.

Once again the Penguins are led by a true superstar, Sidney Crosby, always in contention as the best player currently active. Competing with him for that honor is the Capitals' captain, Alexander Ovechkin.

Traveling: With the game starting at 6 p.m. Sunday, March 20, we were able to find an early flight through Phoenix that would land in Pittsburgh at 4:12 - cutting it close, and leaving little room for error. Long before the big day the airline changed the arrival time to 4:30, which still would work as long as all went well.

The night before I set my alarm for 4 a.m., a time of day that should only be observed in the p.m. sector, got up and had a quick breakfast, and was ready to go when Johnny came by about 4:45. Our flight to Phoenix was uneventful, and too dark for any scenic enjoyment out the window. Both of us started catching up on our reading.

We had a layover of about an hour in Phoenix, and the plane started for the runway on time. Then we stopped, and the pilot announced that there was a minor mechanical problem, which should be fixed within ten minutes. As I tend to do in these situations, I fretted and worried about something I could not control, but Johnny was relaxed and confident we would make it on time.

As usually happens, the crew was able to make up some of the lost time, and we landed in Pittsburgh after four hours or so, and got an Uber ride to downtown. Our hotel was literally across the street from the Consol Energy Center, so we left our luggage with the concierge, walked through falling snow to the arena, and were in our seats a few minutes before the start of the game.

The Game: We had made our travel plans at the start of the season when all teams are equal, so as our travel date approached, I was a little nervous about how the game would go, with the Capitals having the best record in the league, and the Penguins having an up and down season. By this time the Pens had moved into 3rd place in their division, a guaranteed playoff spot, but had not yet clinched.

It turned out we could not have chosen a better game to see. The Penguins opened the scoring, putting up two goals 90 second apart before the first period was half over. In the second period Washington mounted a comeback, scoring early in the period, and again with just under six minutes left. However, the Penguins answered 42 seconds later and started the third period with a 3-2 lead.

In the final 20 minutes of the game, the home team scored three times, triggering loud cheers from the crowd. When favorite villain Ovechkin delivered a big hit against a Pens player the chant of "Ovie sucks" added to the fun. At one point Johnny remarked, "This is the kind of game, if I were watching on TV, I'd wish I could have been there in person."

When the game ended we made our way out along with the rest of the fired-up crowd, and walked back to our hotel in a snow storm. In fact, it had snowed all day and continued into the evening until we were in for the night, but it did not stick on the ground anywhere. The flakes were tiny and it was not unpleasant to be out in it until we went out to dinner.

We got checked in, then went to eat at Cafe Milano, a few blocks from the hotel, where we enjoyed pizza with beer for Johnny and Coke for me. When we requested a combo pizza, we earned a blank look from the counter woman, but looking at the menu we realized a Milano Special was a combo, even if people in Pittsburgh don't know it.

When we walked back to the hotel, the temperature had dropped and the snow flakes seemed colder and wetter, but we had only a short distance to go, so it was bearable.

Gettysburg: When we first began discussing plans for the trip, Johnny suggested that while we were in Pennsylvania, we should also visit Gettysburg and Philadelphia. I had not considered this, and was not totally thrilled by the idea, considering what the weather could be like. But we made our homeward flight reservation from Philadelphia, and Johnny booked hotels in Pittsburgh and Philly. After the fact, I was absolutely delighted that we decided to include these two stops.

On Monday morning we got up when we felt like it, ate some leftover pizza, and Johnny walked to the nearby car rental place to get the vehicle for our trip across Pennsylvania. It's a little over 190 miles from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg, so as Johnny drove, I called and made reservations for 2:20 with The Historic Tour Company, which Johnny had found before our trip.

Our trip was pleasant and scenic, with no traffic or weather problems. In fact, it was sunny when we woke up, and the rest of the way. East of Pittsburgh we started driving through hills with a thin layer of snow in the open areas. Along one stretch the leafless trees had snow on the branches, providing a unique vista for a couple of Californians. There was really no good place to stop along I-76 (Pennsylvania Turnpike), but I managed to get a few fairly decent shots as we drove.

Once we turned off the Interstate onto US30 our speed decreased considerably, as we drove through the Appalachian Mountains. It was also very scenic territory, as we followed the winding route up and over the mountains and down to the rolling hills and fields at the famous Civil War site.

We arrived at the tour office about 20 minutes before the scheduled start, found a parking spot, and walked over to the building, where we were joined by about five others. The man at the office gave a talk that covered the background events leading up to the battle, including the hierarchy of army units in existence at the time for both armies. We then joined our driver-guide aboard an old-style National Park bus for the tour.

You can read about this battle on line and in countless books, and I won't try to give a history lesson here. The bus took us back and forth across the area, as the driver recounted major events in chronological order. Between July 1 and 3, 1863, the battle resulted in over 15,000 men dead or wounded, 5,000 dead horses, terrible devastation to the town, and, amazingly, only one civilian death. On July 4th the Confederate forces began their retreat back south. Despite some future victories, the tide of the war had turned permanently against them.

The trip took us from point to point across the area, and the tour guides were entertaining and knew their subject. They were able to convey a clear understanding of the flow of events and how good and bad decisions made by officers on both sides affected the outcome. We stopped only once at a battle area, Little Round Top, which commands an excellent view of much of the battlefield, showing why its defense was key in the Union victory.

There are plaques and statues as well as other artifacts all over the area, and Johnny and I wished that had we had time to drive or walk around on our own to look at these. But we agreed that exploring on our own would not have had the impact provided by the tour.

During the tour we stopped at the old cemetery, dating from about 1740, where the guide pointed out a tall, brown tombstone. This has been determined to be the location of the speaker's platform when Abraham Lincoln was there to deliver his famous Gettysburg Address.

Johnny and I drove up there and walked in for a closer look, then returned to downtown and had dinner in a restaurant across from the tour agency. Then it was on to Philadelphia, another 120 miles or so. We arrived fairly late, maybe around 9 p.m., got checked in, and settled down for the night.

Philadelphia: The next morning we got up fairly early and drove a few blocks to drop off the rental car. The rest of the day, we walked around the historic district, right next to our hotel. Our first stop was the visitor center where we got tickets for Independence Hall - free but required due to the large number of visitors. Most of the historic attractions in the area are part of the Independence National Historic Park.

Next to the hall and just across from the visitor center is the Liberty Bell, no tickets required (there IS a security check). Contrary to legend, the bell did not crack from being rung with the joy of freedom. It was flawed from the beginning, as many such items were in the 1700s, and cracked when it was first hung in the state house (now Independence Hall). It was ordered by the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1751 to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of William Penn's 1701 Charter of Privileges, Pennsylvania's original Constitution. It was repaired several times, but the crack widened in 1846 to the extent that the bell could no longer be rung.

After looking at the bell, we walked around the area, taking photos of Independence Hall as well as the buildings that housed the first congress and the first supreme court on either side of the Hall, then got in line for the tour.

The building was begun in 1732 and served as the Pennsylvania state house. Construction was supervised by Alexander Hamilton, and continued until 1753. The main points of interest are on the second floor- the courtroom, complete with prisoner's dock, and the meeting room in which both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated, finalized, and signed.

I'm not sure of the order in which the rest of our activities took place, but at one point we went into the City Tavern, where Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and others often took their meals. Although the current building is a 20th century reproduction of the original, we could picture Tom and Ben after a third beer, laughing at how future generations would fight over the meaning of some of their wording of the Constitution. We were not ready for a big meal, so we had a bread plate and sampled beers made from original  recipes of the founders. Johnny had the sampler featuring four different beers, and I had General Washington's Tavern Porter, made from a recipe on file in the Rare Manuscripts Room of the New York Public Library.

The rest of the day we continued our walking tour. We made a fairly short visit to Carpenters' Hall, where the First Continental Congress met in 1774. As we were heading for the Franklin Museum, Johnny spotted the Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum. He holds a degree in chemistry, putting it to use in his profession as a criminalist in the state crime lab, so he wanted to go in. There are many well designed exhibits, including an early model of a machine that he uses regularly. The one on display was about four times bigger than the current model. (As of 2021 this museum is now the Science History Institute.)

After this it was on to the Benjamin Franklin Museum, where we spent at least an hour. The visit was well worth the modest $5 cost, and brought home to us what an amazing person Franklin was. Not the most important aspect of the facility, but it was amusing to see that the wallpaper in some rooms featured little kites. We then walked to the cemetery nearby where Franklin is buried. It was closed, but we could see his grave site and there is a commemorative plaque on the cemetery wall.

The final "tourist attraction" that we visited was Elfreth's Alley, said to be the oldest continually inhabited street in America. Dating back to 1736, it's still a residential street, but open to the public to walk down and look at the well-preserved old buildings.

When we got back to our hotel for a rest before dinner, I was surprised to discover that we had walked over five miles during our rambling tour of the historic district. I'm certain we were never more than a mile from our hotel, but we meandered to and fro a few times in getting to all the places we wanted to see. Throughout the day we had sunshine, with occasional light wind.

We went out to eat at a nearby restaurant, National Mechanics, where I had pork chops and Johnny had fish and chips, both very good.

Heading Home: Because we were off from our usual time zone by three hours, we didn't really keep the best schedule, but the entire trip was short enough that we did not suffer. It was a little strange to get up Wednesday morning at 4 a.m., knowing that it was 1 a.m. in California. We took a cab to the airport, arriving in plenty of time for our 6:45 a.m. flight.

Once again, there was a delay. We had left the gate when the plane stopped and the pilot announced that due to the nature of the plane, the flight, the number of passengers or something, three pilots were required, and they had to call the third one in. He was on his way, and should arrive in about ten minutes. Once again I worried about something I could not control, since our layover in Phoenix was less than an hour. However, the crew was able to make up some of the lost time, and we arrived with a few minutes to spare before boarding began. Of course, after boarding, we sat in the plane for a while and took off half an hour late, with no explanation.

We landed in Fresno a little after noon Pacific time, ransomed Johnny's car, and headed for home. Despite some delays, we got everywhere on time, we had good luck with the weather, and we shared a memorable experience, both with the game in Pittsburgh and our explorations of our country's history.

--Dick Estel, April 2016


Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window)
Photos by Johnny Upshaw and Dick Estel


The Pittsburgh Penguins home arena

Dick and Johnny, ready for the game

Pittsburgh vs. Washington
The final score - Penguins win! Downtown Pittsburgh from our hotel Along the road east of Pittsburgh
The final score - Penguins win!

Downtown Pittsburgh from our hotel

Along the road east of Pittsburgh
Snow along I-76 The off ramp to Gettysburg Entering Gettysburg
Snow along I-76 The off ramp to Gettysburg Entering Gettysburg
Our tour bus Ed, entertainer, educator, bus driver The fields west of town
Our tour bus

Ed, entertainer, educator, bus driver

The fields west of town
View across the battlefield from Little Round Top Johnny and cannon on Little Round Top Where the tide of battle turned in favor of the Union
View across the battlefield from Little Round Top Johnny and cannon on Little Round Top Where the tide of battle
turned in favor of the Union 
Monument on Little Round Top The old cemetery Location of speaker stand for Gettysburg Address
Monument on Little Round Top The old cemetery Location of speaker stand
for Gettysburg Address
A national park in the middle of a huge city That famous bell The history of our nation - and its future

A national park in the middle of a huge city

That famous bell

The history of our nation - and its future

Johnny and Dick with Independence Hall in background Where the Declaration and the Constitution were signed
Johnny and Dick with
Independence Hall in background
Independence Hall Where the Declaration and
the Constitution were signed
Where Congress first met First National Bank Second National Bank
Where Congress first met First National Bank Second National Bank
Memorial to soldiers of the revolution Unknown soldier in Washington's army Carpenters' Hall

Memorial to soldiers of the revolution

Unknown soldier in Washington's army

Carpenters' Hall
Sign outside the hall Samples of beer made from colonial-era recipes All about the beers
Sign outside the hall Samples of beer made from colonial-era recipes All about the beers
Museum of the Chemical Heritage Foundation Instrument from Varian Associates Historic instruments

Museum of the Chemical
Heritage Foundation

Instrument from Varian Associates

Historic instruments
Early odometer used and maybe invented by Ben Franklin Those famous bifocals Plaque at Franklin grave site
Early odometer used and
maybe invented by Ben Franklin
Those famous bifocals Plaque at Franklin grave site
The oldest continuously occupied residential street in the U.S. Elfreth's Alley
The oldest continuously occupied
residential street in the U.S.
Cellar doors were all over downtown Philadelphia Elfreth's Alley
Somewhere over Arizona, approaching Phoenix More Arizona
Easter eggs at the airport Somewhere over Arizona, approaching Phoenix More Arizona
Related Links
Pittsburgh Gettysburg Philadelphia
Independence National Park Pittsburgh Penguins Washington Capitals
Battle of Gettysburg More Battle Still More Battle
Liberty Bell Liberty Bell Center Independence Hall Tours
Independence Hall History City Tavern Chemical Heritage Foundation
Benjamin Franklin Museum Elfreth's Alley Carpenter's Hall

View across the battlefield from Little Round Top

Where the Declaration and the Constitution were signed

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