Independence Hall is a place Americans think they know well.
Within its walls the Continental Congress declared independence in
1776, and in 1787 the Founding Fathers drafted the U.S.
Constitution there. Painstakingly restored to evoke these momentous
events, the building appears to have passed through time unscathed,
from the heady days of the American Revolution to today. But
Independence Hall is more than a symbol of the young nation. Beyond
this, according to Charlene Mires, it has a long and varied history
of changing uses in an urban environment, almost all of which have
been forgotten.In "Independence Hall," Mires rediscovers and
chronicles the lost history of Independence Hall, in the process
exploring the shifting perceptions of this most important building
in America's popular imagination. According to Mires, the
significance of Independence Hall cannot be fully appreciated
without assessing the full range of political, cultural, and social
history that has swirled about it for nearly three centuries.
During its existence, it has functioned as a civic and cultural
center, a political arena and courtroom, and a magnet for public
celebrations and demonstrations. Artists such as Thomas Sully
frequented Independence Square when Philadelphia served as the
nation's capital during the 1790s, and portraitist Charles Willson
Peale merged the arts, sciences, and public interest when he
transformed a portion of the hall into a center for natural science
in 1802.In the 1850s, hearings for accused fugitive slaves who
faced the loss of freedom were held, ironically, in this famous
birthplace of American independence. Over the years Philadelphians
have used the old state house and its public square in a multitude
of ways that have transformed it into an arena of conflict: labor
grievances have echoed regularly in Independence Square since the
1830s, while civil rights protesters exercised their right to free
speech in the turbulent 1960s. As much as the Founding Fathers,
these people and events illuminate the building's significance as a
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