If you can slow down and focus on one exhibit at a time, you'll find lots of food for thought -- and even a few genuine historic artifacts, such as a rusty set of slave shackles. It's easy to overlook them, though, amid all the noise and flashing lights.
But if you're looking for educational value, this is a museum best taken in small doses. Come prepared to study one historical period -- the Civil War, say, or Watergate -- and you'll learn a great deal about how the Constitution was challenged, and how it held up. Just don't try to do it all at once.
Looking to clear my head, I strolled over to the Liberty Bell and then to Independence Hall, where a National Park Service ranger vividly sketched the city as the Founding Fathers knew it. Don't forget to look in next door, at the modest brick hall where George Washington was inaugurated.
The rain had cleared as I left Independence Hall, and I decided to walk a few blocks to Washington Square, a modest patch of green with a powerful history. Many Revolutionary War soldiers are buried here -- including hundreds who died of depravation in British prison camps. Their graves "are enough to make the heart of stone melt away," John Adams said when he visited in 1777.
After the war, the green became a favorite meeting spot for Africans. Black Philadelphians held their festivals in the park -- dubbed "Congo Square" -- sharing dances, songs and food from their homelands.
A guidebook produced by the state of Pennsylvania advises visitors to "listen for the Djembe drum" of West Africa near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington Square.
So I walked up to the eternal flame and stood there a moment, in silence.
A horn honked. A dog barked. A little boy scraped a toy truck over the concrete path.
Behind those noises, I could swear I heard the steady thump of a drumbeat, low and insistent.
Once again, I felt transported.