Philadelphia is a city of historical tours. You can learn about Betsy Ross, Ben Franklin and whoever else you want by horse, by bus, by foot and by Duck, and you can see old buildings, churches, documents, arts and ghosts.
But can we trust these tours? Are they boggling historical facts or maybe even making them up entirely? Recently, Billy Penn took tours with Philadelphia Trolley Works and 76 Carriage Co. and fact-checked the tour guides. The result? They were good most of the time but not everything you’ll hear them say is true:
Ben Franklin’s Colonial Footsteps Walking Tour, $38 for two people, 75 minutes, Oct. 26
Tour Guide: Sebastian
Percentage of facts correct: 78 percent
Philadelphia is now the fifth largest city in the U.S. with 1.5 million people. — Yes
The Constitution of the United States was debated, drafted and signed in Independence Hall. — Yes
St. Augustine’s Church was originally built in 1799 and then rebuilt in 1847. — No. It was completed in 1801, but he is correct about it being rebuilt in 1847.
The Society of Free Quakers were the branch of Quakers who wanted to fight and they split off in 1783. The group died out in the 1840s. — No. They were indeed the types who wanted to fight, but they split off in 1781. They also died out a little earlier than our tour guide said, in the 1830s
There are 12,000 practicing Quakers in Philadelphia today. — Yes
The raised seating in Quaker meeting houses is intended for seating elders. — Yes
The U.S. Mint was founded in Philadelphia in 1792. — Yes
Christ Church Philadelphia features graves of Ben Franklin, Benjamin Rush, George Ross, Joseph Hewes and Francis Hopkinson all of whom were signers of the Declaration of Independence. — Yes
Every year $4,000 to $6,000 worth of pennies are swept up from Ben Franklin’s grave — Not a chance. Philly.com once quoted this statistic as well, but it needs to die very soon. If we accepted the low estimate of $4,000, people would need to place 1,095 pennies per day on Franklin’s grave. And there’s no way that’s happening.
In 1749, UPenn was founded in Olde City by Ben Franklin. — Yes
Thomas Holme designed Philadelphia’s grid system. — Yes
Streets like Cherry, Chestnut and Walnut were given tree names for people who were illiterate so they could tell the street by the types of trees on the side of road. — Maybe. This is only a theory. It’s also possible they were named after trees because William Penn wanted to give Philly the feel of a “green country town”
The Sixth Sense used St. Augustine’s Church in the movie. — Yes
The term Quaker originates from a slur used by Anglo-Saxons making fun of how they trembled before God. — Yes
Two presidents, Richard Nixon and Herbert Hoover, were Quakers. — Yes. And as the tour guide pointed out, Nixon wasn’t exactly the ideal, nonviolent Quaker because…Vietnam.
Alexander Milne Calder built the Billy Penn statue, and his son, Alexander Stirling Calder, built the Swann Memorial Fountain. — Yes
Elfreth’s Alley was established in 1702. — Yes
Whitechapel Foundry, which made the Liberty Bell, also made the bell for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. — Yes
Benjamin Franklin’s house was demolished in 1812, thanks to his ungrateful descendants — Yes
William Penn converted to Quakerism when he was at Oxford. — No. He converted when he was in Ireland, sent there by his dad to quash some rebellions.
The abolitionists popularized the name Liberty Bell for the Liberty Bell. — Yes
Thomas Jefferson had 600 slaves. — Yes
Leviticus 25:10 is inscribed on the Liberty Bell. — Yes
From the 76 Carriage Co., $55 for two people, 30 minutes, Oct. 25.
Tour guide: Chris
Percent of facts correct: About 70 percent
William Penn was 22 during the Great Fire of London — Yes
It burnt down half the city of London and killed the Black Plague — Yes
Philly got its name because eight people died in London in the winter of 1666 and some were showing them brotherly love by housing them. — Maybe. Most scholars say William Penn named the city by combining two Greek words (love – phileo and brother – adelphos) because he wanted the city to be a place where people could be free of religious persecution.
Taxation laws was why King Charles I gave Pennsylvania to William Penn — Nope. That was King Charles II, and the king handed over the chunk of land in America to Billy Penn because he owed him a bunch of money.
King Charles I was beheaded — Yes.
Fourth and Walnut — John Todd’s house. In 1793 he caught yellow fever. — Yes
Whispering Benches were for women to gossip — It’s unclear if this is actually why these benches were created. But apparently they do work.
The original eternal flame is here and the unknown soldier is buried here in Washington Square Park. The unknown soldiers worked under George Washington. — Yes
Catholics threw the Quakers out of London — Kinda. Quakers definitely fled England in large numbers to avoid religious persecution, but that was at the hands of both Catholics and Protestants.