Philly: Best of the Rest

Philadelphia Love Sculpture

Five More Reasons to Visit Philadelphia

We’ve already devoted full stories to a number of our favorite places in Philly: Eastern State Penitentiary, The Neon Museum of Philadelphia, Laurel Hill Cemetery, and Philly Magic Gardens.

We’ve also shared some of our favorite Philly foods.

But other spots deserve some love, too. How could we not tell you about a museum filled with human body parts, a department store with daily pipe organ concerts, or a park filled with giant game pieces? 

So here, in no particular order, are five more reasons to visit Philadelphia.

PhillyArtMuseum Collage
Philadelphia Museum of Art

What a beautiful building! You know the exterior from that stair-running scene in “Rocky.” The interior is just as gorgeous. 

It’s also massive. Thanks to a recent redesign, it now has nearly 90,000 square feet of space in its main building and houses more than 240,000 works of art.

Among them are an entire Japanese teahouse built around 1917 and a re-created Hindu temple hall featuring 60 granite carvings salvaged from a dump in India that date to the 1500s. [1]We witnessed a person crossing the exhibits by WALKING THROUGH THE EXHIBITS. Ridiculous. Please don’t be this person.

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You’ll also find works by Van Gogh, Chagall, Rembrandt, Rivera, Cezanne. Really, whatever your preferred art style, you’ll find it here. [2]Chagall’s the best, but I only like them because he was name-dropped in an Innocence Mission song. The Innocence Mission is the best. Their album Glow changed my life. Don’t tell anybody I admitted this.

Pro Tip 1: Regular admission is $25, but on Fridays after 5 p.m., it’s pay-what-you-will.

Pro Trip 2: If you find yourself in Philadelphia on July 4, grab some camp chairs and a cooler and head to the George Washington statue across the street from those famous museum stairs. From there you’ll have a great view of the amazing fireworks display over the museum. This was one of the coolest things we did on the trip. [3]Don’t forget to bring a cooler full of adult beverages.

Philadelphia Christ Church Burial Grounds Franklin Grave
Christ Church Burial Ground

Five signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried in this two-acre plot next to historic Christ Church.

The pretty, serene graveyard is an oasis of quiet in the middle of downtown Philadelphia. 

People throw pennies on the grave of Christ Church’s most famous “resident,” Benjamin Franklin. (His marker can be seen through the fence if you don’t want to pay the $5 admission fee, but we’re glad we spent the money to go inside. There aren’t many places where you can take in crumbling, 250-year-old gravestones and gleaming, modern skyscrapers all in one glance.)

Franklin opted for a simple marker—just his and his wife’s names and death date—but I appreciated Frederick Smyth’s decision to tell future generations a little more about himself (I’ve added punctuation to make it easier to read): “This monument is erected in memory of Frederick Smyth, Esq. Born in the city of Norfolk, Great Britain, and chief justice of the province of New Jersey from 1764 to the Revolution. At the stormy period, his probity, sincerity, and mild deportment enabled him to act with unshaken fidelity to the crown without creating a personal enemy. Since that event, he removed to Philadelphia, where he died without previous illness in the full possession of his faculties, esteemed and respected, on the 8th day of February A.D. 1815. Age 84 Years.” [4]Frederick Peters, Esq. Born in the city of Memphis, USA, wilted in the heat of Philadelphia and couldn’t maneuver the steps at the art museum. I am not a proud man.

If you’re curious: The other signers buried here are Benjamin Rush, George Ross, Francis Hopkinson, and Joseph Hewes.

Asheville friends: Col. Edward Buncombe—a Revolutionary War general for whom Buncombe County, N.C., is named—is buried here and has his own bench as well. [5]And that ain’t a bunch of BUNK.

Philadelphia Mutter Museum Banner
Mütter Museum

“Are you ready to be disturbingly informed?” asks the Mütter Museum on its website.

We thought we were…

The Mütter is a medical history museum. Every awful thing that can happen to the human body is on display in its glass jars and cases. We’re talking giant ovarian cysts. Syphilitic skulls. Cancerous tumors. [6]The horror. The horror.

There are skeletons of people born with birth defects that twisted their bodies and shortened their lives. Jaws mangled by daily exposure to phosphorous in factories. Giant hairballs retrieved from the stomachs of people who couldn’t stop eating their own hair. [7]Nothing can prepare you for this. Unless, you know, you eat a lot of your own hair, in which case I am bald and jealous that you have that option in life.

And if you like your medical horrors with a dash of celebrity, you’ll be happy to know that the Mütter has Grover Cleveland’s jaw tumor, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall’s bladder stone, and tiny slices of Albert Einstein’s brain. [8]To quote the late, great Norm MacDonald, “Or so the Germans would have you believe.”

Displays are packed tightly together, and with the number of visitors, it was hard to see everything.  

This was fine by Fred, who did not have a good time: “I appreciate you taking me,” he said afterward as we recovered in a nearby bar. “But it’s just horrific the things that happen to people.” [9]I was not okay. I’m still not okay.

Note: The museum does not allow the taking of photos, which is probably for the best.

Philadelphia Macy's Wanamaker Organ
Macy’s Wanamaker Organ

Shopped at Macy’s? We’ve done that. Enjoyed a live pipe organ performance? Ditto.

But never could we have imagined shopping at Macy’s while enjoying a live pipe organ performance. 

Yet now we’ve done that, too.

The Wanamaker Organ was built for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and was supposed to have been permanently housed in the Kansas City Convention Hall. But convention authorities changed their minds, and five years later, Philadelphia’s John Wanamaker bought it for his new, seven-story emporium. The organ’s pieces filled 13 railroad cars, and workers needed two years to install it.

The organ’s first notes rang out on June 22, 1911, at the exact moment King George V was crowned in Westminster Abbey. (What would the Declaration of Independence signers have made of Wanamaker’s decision to celebrate a new British king, I wonder?)

Today the Wanamaker is the largest operational pipe organ in the world, consisting of 28,750 pipes and weighing in at over 574,000 pounds.

It’s also a work of art, with gleaming gold pipes topped by a winged angel.

Wanamaker’s eventually went under, and after a series of buyouts, became a Macy’s in 2006. The Center City store offers free, 30-minute concerts twice a day, except Sundays, at noon and either 5:30 or 7 p.m., depending on the day. 

Standing in the soaring atrium, listening to the strains of the organ, you can hardly believe you’re in a department store. Some folks continued rummaging through racks or trying on shoes as if they were in any old strip mall, but we were entranced. [10]Totally worth the price of admission.

Philly Mural Collage 2
Outdoor Art, Part 1

Philadelphia is a city of murals. It seems like every other street has one. Murals add color and personality to an area—they bring art to where people live. Other cities would do well to adopt the Philadelphia model. [11]Soyia would have more photos for this, but seriously, it was the temperature of the sun the entire time we were in Philadelphia.

(But Philadelphians: If you want to be known as a truly beautiful place, please, for the love of God, pick up your trash. I’ve never seen a more litter-filled U.S. city.) [12]Every place smelled like a combination of Weed, Trash, and Urine. Not a bouquet to strive for.

Philly Board Game Park Collage
Outdoor Art, Part 2

You probably know Philadelphia’s famous LOVE sculpture, which sits across the street from City Hall. 

What you might not know is that there are quite a few other sculptures in that area, including a whole bunch of giant game pieces in the Board Game Art Park. There are Monopoly tokens, bingo chips, dominoes, and chess and Sorry (or is it Parcheesi?) pieces. 

If these don’t bring out the kid in you, what will?

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