When planning our honeymoon, we wanted to pick a location that would be within our wedding budget, easy to travel to, and still be an experience to treasure. This turned out to be pretty easy for two historians who work in museums and love American history. James and Emily met in graduate school studying for their masters degrees in Public History, so when it came time to plan our romantic getaway, we knew we had to go somewhere historic so we chose Philadelphia and Gettysburg. With the economy the way it is today, we were concerned we might not be able to afford the honeymoon we wanted. But when James was recommended Traveler's Joy by a colleague who used it for her honeymoon, we knew this would be the perfect way for our friends and family to give us unique gifts and be able to have the honeymoon we always dreamed of. Many of our family and friends loved the idea of a honeymoon registry and complimented us on our Traveler's Joy site.
With only one short week for a honeymoon, September 23-29, we knew we had to plan wisely, but we also knew we wanted to see as much as we could in both cities. By driving to Philadelphia and Gettysburg from central New York, we were able to get to our destinations within a few hours, and although gas prices can add up, we still saved a lot of money on travel expenses by choosing not to fly.
We began our historic honeymoon by spending the wedding night, September 22, at the Jefferson Clinton Hotel in Syracuse, NY, which was built in 1927 and listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the Historic Hotels of America. The next day we left for our six-hour adventure to southern Pennsylvania.
By early evening we arrived at the Penns View Hotel, housed in a beautiful 1828 building in the Old City section of Philadelphia. Situated along the Delaware River it was within view of the landing place of William Penn, who founded Philadelphia in the early 18th century. Emily found the Penns View by searching hotel booking sites and it sounded like the perfect little romantic hotel, and when we got there the colonial decor was more beautiful than the photos on their website. Another factor that made Emily choose this place was that the rooms included a fireplace and a jacuzzi, which were both ended up being very relaxing to have at the end of a long day. The hotel had the feeling of an old fashioned hotel, right down to the use of a real key for the room instead of the typical magnetic key cards of modern hotels.
For our first full day in Philadelphia we checked out the big historic sites and monuments we had already planned to see. We toured both Independence Hall and Congress Hall, and were very impressed that we could take photos of the rooms in these historic buildings. To know such grand events happened here, like the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was incredible. Later in the day we took a trip across the nearby park to the building that housed the Liberty Bell. There was a long line to see the bell, but it was well worth the wait.
As soon as we finished there we headed over to the National Constitution Center, which is a relatively new museum dedicated to the U.S. Constitution. The museum was huge, and we spent a long time going through it. But the highlight for both of us was in what was called the Signer's Hall, where they have life size statues of the men who signed the Constitution. In the center of the room they had a large book, which was a reproduction of the Constitution, and spaces on the pages for each visitor to sign their names. As James signed his name Emily realized "Hey this will be the first time I can sign my new last name!" It was a wonderful memory for both of us. On our walk back to the hotel we passed by the cemetery where Benjamin Franklin is buried, and we were able to see his stone from the sidewalk, because, unlike the stone wall that encompassed the rest of the cemetery, there was a piece of cast iron fence by his so visitors could view it from the outside.
When it came time for dinner, we decided to check out the number one food of Philadelphia: the Philly Cheesesteak. Having been recommended by one of James' groomsmen to go to the restaurant Pat's (as it is where the Philly cheesesteak was first created) we took a trip out to try it. We were told that when you order your Philly cheesesteak, you have to order it in a certain way. Luckily for us, Pat's even had a sign about how to order. It felt awkward for us to order this way, but we did so successfully (With onions and provolone for James and with onions and American for Emily). Hopefully we didn't sound too much like tourists.
Over the course of our first day, we saw several sites we hadn't thought of or noticed when planning the trip, so on our second day we decided to check out some of these places. We realized that our hotel wasn't far away from Benjamin Franklin's print shop, so we walked into the little courtyard behind it in the morning, and later in the day, we headed into the print shop to learn about it. One of the most interesting sites for us in Philly was the U.S. Mint. Neither of us had visited a Mint before, and it was quite fascinating to learn about the history of the Mint and watch pennies being made. After our lunch we went over to the Betsy Ross House, which was a very cute little house museum.
For dinner we decided to go to a restaurant called City Tavern, which is an historic tavern that was built in 1773 and they serve authentic 18th century food. The atmosphere of City Tavern was very simple and old fashioned: plain white walls with old maps and drawings, tall ceilings, wooden floors, and they had electric candles on the walls and a single tall candle on the table for lighting. We drank water from pewter cups instead of the typical glass cups. Emily decided to try the duck, which was delicious and covered in an exquisite sauce. James chose to have the venison, which he too said was delicious. We both had glasses of Madeira, which is a type of wine that the founding fathers toasted the Constitution with when it was finished. We were both so full after dinner that we decided to take a walk over to Washington Square to see the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In this park there are thousands of Revolutionary War soldiers buried beneath the ground and one had accidentally been unburied and now lies in a stone tomb on a monument dedicated to all of the men buried there. While it was a little too dark to see everything, it was pretty breathtaking to see the flame glowing and lighting up the tomb and monuments.
Before we said our farewell to the city that treated us so kindly, we spent a few hours exploring a darker side of Philly's history: Eastern State Penitentiary, a prison that ran from the 19th century until the 1970s. Emily and James had been fans of the TV show Ghost Hunters, and had seen episodes where they investigated Eastern State, so when we realized we would be near the penitentiary, we had to make sure to get a tour. This was by far the best site we visited in Philadelphia because neither of us had ever explored ruins of any type before, so it was incredibly interesting to see buildings and prison cells that were decaying and had trees growing in them. The history of the penitentiary was also just so vast and incredible to take in. It's a sad part of history to learn, but it was fascinating to view and explore. We had also hoped to have a ghostly encounter here, as that would have made this site even more exciting for us.
The tour of Eastern State began the leg of our honeymoon which we termed the haunted honeymoon. We had decided when planning our trip that we wanted to go to a few places that are well known for being haunted, hoping to have some sort of paranormal experience. So we had several spooky activities planned for Gettysburg. We booked a bed and breakfast, called the Farnsworth House Inn, which is known to be a haunted house.
We were so excited about staying here when we first booked the room, but that excitement quickly turned to being a little too freaked out to even sleep! When we first checked into our room, Emily felt very uncomfortable, which would be a good thing since we went to this B&B with the purpose of having a ghostly experience. The room was covered with very dark purple wallpaper and dark brown wood, and had framed drawings and paintings of Victorian children and animals all over the walls. Perhaps it was the darkness of the room and the many images that seemed overwhelming enough to make us uncomfortable. Shortly after we checked in, we booked tickets for some ghost stories in the basement of the Inn. The stories were very interesting and entertaining, but neither of us felt scared or uncomfortable while listening to tales about the house and ghosts that haunt the rooms (including the two different rooms we would be staying at over the course of the three nights). By the time we got out of the ghost stories we grabbed some dinner at a nearby diner and then decided to do a ghost tour of the town. Similar to the ghost stories, the tour was very entertaining, but didn't spook us one bit.
When we finally got back to our room and started to settle in, both of us realized we couldn't stop thinking about the ghost stories about the building we were sleeping in. Emily turned on the TV for a little bit, trying to ease our minds, and then we decided to try to get some sleep. Neither of us spoke about the fact that we were too freaked out from the stories to sleep. Finally giving in to the fact that we wouldn't get any rest in complete darkness, we turned on a dim light in the room and were able to get a few hours of sleep.
The next day proved to be very busy as we did one of our most exciting planned adventures of the honeymoon; a guided horseback ride of the Gettysburg battlefield. This was our favorite experience in Gettysburg because we were on the land where history took place and felt a closer connection to the battle by being on horseback. After we met up with our tour guide, and met the horses we would be on, we were on our way, riding on horses across the same trails that General Robert E. Lee and other Civil War soldiers once rode upon. It was all so breathtaking! We learned more about the Civil War from our amazing guide and viewed the battlefield from the vantage point that many of the soldiers had. It was an incredible experience we will never forget.
As the day turned into evening, we decided on dining at Gettysburg's authentic 18th century tavern called The Dobbins House. As soon as dinner was done, we were both exhausted and got to sleep early (still with the dim light on of course).
We decided to get up bright and early for our last full day in Gettysburg, and headed out to explore some of the battlefield. The evening before we had stopped at the Visitor's Center and picked up an audio tour guide. This was a great addition to driving around the battlefield, as we felt like we were truly experiencing the intense battle. We began our morning drive in thick fog, which although it inhibited viewing certain monuments, it made the perfect atmosphere to our drive. We hiked up Big Round Top to see an incredible view, saw the monument dedicated to the soldiers of the well known 20th Maine (depicted in the movie Gettysburg) at Little Round Top, and even climbed up Devil's Den. We had a blast seeing all of these natural and historic sites.
But the fun wasn't over yet, and in the afternoon we went back into town for another one of our scheduled appointments; to have an authentic tin type photograph taken of us in 19th century clothing. This ended up tying with the horseback tour as one of the most memorable events on our honeymoon because we were able to capture our 19th century selves in a photograph. We went to Gibson's Photographic Gallery and had a wonderful time chatting with Rob Gibson and his wife. We were donned in Civil War era clothing (James a Union Officer and Emily his wife) and posed for a photo taken by Rob with an authentic 19th century camera. He showed us every step of the incredible process and we left Gettysburg with a beautiful piece of art to always remember our honeymoon.
Following the photograph, we finished what was left of the battlefield tour, including stopping by the national cemetery. It was so sad to see how many soldiers were buried there, but also so moving to see such a beautiful memorial for them. After we finished the tour, we stayed in our B&B for dinner in their dining room that night, which served authentic 19th century meals. Our dinner was delicious and we couldn't have asked for a better ending to our honeymoon. We even got sound sleep that last night, as we had booked a different room for the third night, and it felt much more relaxing in there. Although we went to that B&B hoping for a ghostly experience, and even though we both became a bit too frightened that something might happen, we sadly did not have any paranormal experiences. We did, however, go to an authentic 19th century seance that evening, also conducted by our B&B. So in a way we did have a paranormal experience, just not the one we expected.
Our honeymoon was an incredible and truly memorable experience and we were so happy to be able to see and learn so much of our nation's history. We would highly recommend this honeymoon to other couples who have a thirst for history and want to keep the trip budget friendly, as it only cost us about $3,500. By having our family and friends purchase our gifts through Traveler's Joy we were able to have the honeymoon we wanted with memories to last our entire lives.