The entrance to the Museum of the American Revolution, at Third and Chestnut Streets, is striking, but we walked past it on a recent day. The museum wasn’t open yet.
My daughters and I had been invited to visit for a preopening test-drive of the exhibits inside, with instructions to ring for admittance at the loading dock and staff entrance.
This is notable because we walked into the soon-to-open museum through a maze of hallways rather than the striking main entrance with its marble and paneling and grand spiral staircase. When we got to the impressive rotunda, the contrast was so striking that Felicity, 8, let out a “whoa.”
During our visit, workers were putting finishing touches on many of the first-floor attractions, including the gift shop, Cross Keys Cafe, and Lenfest Myer Theater (Addie, 6: “This is like the fanciest movie theater ever”), so we headed upstairs.
As we entered the “Prologue: Tearing Down the King” exhibit, a motion-triggered video began, depicting the colonists’ destruction of a statue of King George III. The video wasn't long -- maybe 90 seconds or so -- but Addie sank to the floor as she watched, enthralled.
Later, however, standing in front of a replica of that statue in another room, the girls refused to join the revolution. “Fighting is bad!” Addie said.
The museum has impressive iPad-like touch technology, but it proved to be old news for children who have grown up with such devices. Instead, my girls were charmed by the old-school museum exhibits, like the interactive spinning panels that allow them to match up the uniforms worn by soldiers.
Felicity read aloud all the signs posted at the exhibits, and I was surprised by how long they lingered, Addie listening as Felicity told her what the displays of Revolution-era figures depicted.
In front of a tableau in which Gen. George Washington is breaking up a fight among soldiers, the girls agreed the general looked “so fancy” in his ruffled shirt.
Farther in, a cannon was sitting on the floor, awaiting placement in an exhibit, and we were told we could touch it.
“It feels like a metal rock,” Felicity said, and she commented on its rough, pitted texture.
“This is seriously the best cannon I ever saw,” Addie said -- though in the interest of full disclosure, she doesn’t encounter many in her daily life.
The Oneida Nation Gallery is touted as a prime selfie spot, but the dim lighting -- alarming to the girls -- made it a little dark for that purpose.
Alarming to mom? A sharp tomahawk, hanging right at 6-year-old eye level. (I apparently wasn't the only one alarmed. The museum plans to childproof the tomahawk blade.) I quickly herded the girls away, and we suddenly were standing in front of an Oneida man holding a dead duck.
“Is that duck … dead?” Felicity asked.
“Oh, no,” Addie said. “The duck is his sidekick.”
Not all exhibits were up and running the day we visited, and though that was disappointing in some cases -- we’ll just have to come back, the girls said -- in other cases, it may have been for the best. The battle simulation in the Battle of Brandywine Theater seemed like it might be too realistic for these particular 6- and 8-year-olds.
Also realistic is the museum's privateer ship, decked out with cannons for pretend shooting and ropes to actually knot.
We spent a lot of time on the ship.
Among the many artifacts at the museum are colonial-era children’s toys and examples of schoolwork, and the girls were mesmerized by how similar the toys are to theirs, and how different the homework is.
“Well,” Felicity said as she flipped through the laminated pages of detailed handwriting. “I’m glad I don’t have this teacher.”
We revisited some of our favorite exhibits, then headed back out into the 21st century.
“So, what did you think?” I asked.
“I think Gen. Washington is better than President Washington,” Felicity said.
“Totally,” Addie agreed.