July 06, 2003

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If you want something done right, do it yourself. If you want something done wrong, take it to Philadelphia.

Philly’s latest botched job: Friday’s opening of the National Constitution Center.

Everything was going well at the sweltering morning ceremonies. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had received her award and completed her acceptance speech. The museum was set to open for its first visitors. Then, at just the last moment, when the dramatic unveiling was about to begin...chaos.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports (“Frame’s Fall Mars Opening,” by Jacqueline Soteropoulos and Anthony S. Twyman, July 5, p. A1):

After the scheduled speeches concluded, O’Connor and the 41 others on the stage were to participate in a ceremonial drawing of a giant curtain to unveil the center’s 40-foot-tall glass main entrance.

But when she and the others -- including Gov. Ed Rendell, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, and Mayor John F. Street -- simultaneously tugged metallic ribbons to simulate opening of the curtain, they instead pulled down a massive piece of the stage scenery, in the shape of a picture frame.

It struck Specter, Street[,] and Joseph M. Torsella, Constitution Center president, injuring them slightly. The top beam of the frame, termed “very heavy” by Street, crashed to the floor directly in front of where O’Connor was seated in the first row.

“We could all have been killed there,” O’Connor was overheard saying into her open microphone as she and the others looked in astonishment on the massive beam lying almost in their laps.

It gets worse. Today the Inquirer reports the frame wasn’t put to the test beforehand “Fallen Frame Was Unsecured,” by Jere Downs, Sam Wood, and Joseph Tanfani, July 6, p. A1):

The 650-pound wood frame that toppled onto a stageful of dignitaries at the National Constitution Center’s opening was not secured at its top or its base, and had never been inspected, according to an official close to the investigation of the accident.

In addition, the official and other sources said, there was no run-through or rehearsal of the ceremony, though such rehearsals are standard practice in stagecraft.

Yep, that’s Philly, the city that brought you the MOVE bombing, the 1998 Army-Navy Game, Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, Legionnaires’ Disease, the Fairmount Water Works fire, and so much more: Getting it wrong again.


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