Washington Square in Old City Philadelphia Has a Moving Patriotic Tomb

Washington Square

Eternal Flame, Memorial to the Unknown Soldier of the Revolutionary War, Washington Square. To see a larger version of this picture - and we recommend that you do, in order to read the inscriptions clearly - just click directly on the photo.

So let's learn more...

What is now known as Washington Square, was one of the five original squares laid down by William Penn in 1682.

In keeping with Quaker beliefs on humility, nothing - except ironically, Pennsylvania itself - was named after a person. It was trees and numbers and directions, for the most part. And this Square, eventually named after the Revolutionary War Commander-in-Chief and first President of the United States, was known originally by a very simple name - Southeast Square. Of the five, it was the one located in the southeast, hence the name.

It is located directly across the street from both Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, and is well worth your time, for a visit. The trees offer a refreshing respite of shade, particularly if you are visiting these attractions, in the heat and humidity of summer.

The most compelling attraction of Washington Square, however, is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution. The following words are engraved, upon the Monument:

"Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness."

"The independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint councils and joint efforts of common dangers, suffering, and success."

"In unmarked graves within this Square lie thousands of unknown soldiers of Washington's Army who died of wounds and sickness during the Revolutionary War."

However, we believe the most moving and powerful statement is engraved upon a plaque upon the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, itself:

"Beneath this stone rests a soldier of Washington's Army who died to give you liberty."

Regrettably, it's not only soldiers of Washington's Continental Army, who are buried, en masse, there. The yellow fever epidemic hit Philadelphia in 1793, about a decade after the end of the Revolutionary War.

The sheer number of deaths meant that many yellow fever victims - since their disease was highly contagious - were simply flung into mass graves there, joining the soldiers from a decade or so earlier.

Naturally, this is very somber, when one contemplates the turbulent history, that led to the many graves underneath Washington Square. But it's not a depressing place to visit in Philadelphia. In fact, it's very uplifting, and the Monument - built in 1954 - serves its purpose very well.

At its essence, the Monument seeks to make an eloquent tribute to the fact that many ordinary Americans (and foreign volunteers, too, such as the Marquis de Lafayette and Baron von Steuben) sacrificed a great deal for the nation's liberty. And although all participants suffered, there were a great many - too many - who also died for supporting the American cause, during the Revolutionary War against Great Britain.

And after you visit there, you feel a strong sense of patriotism, thinking about their sacrifices back in the 18th century.

In addition, Washington Square, despite what lies underneath it, is not simply a giant graveyard. If there were no monuments or historical markers, it would be a very idyllic urban setting, ideal for relaxing on a bench with an ice cream cone or a soft pretzel, or for walking your dog (dogs are a common sight there). It's well worth a visit.

A Map of Washington Square and the Surrounding Area in Old City

View Washington Square / Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a larger map

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