Top Philadelphia sightseeing locations include a bevy of quintessential iconic sites and milestones such as the Reading Terminal Market, (the nation’s oldest farmer’s market), Independence National Historical Park, (where American democracy was philosophized and galvanized into action), and the Philadelphia Zoo, (America’s first zoo). However, Philadelphia has a quirky side that can get overlooked amid the publicity of renowned museums and historical sites. For every lauded museum of history there is a museum of bizarre curiosities; for every patriotic parade there is a nod to international revolutions. All it takes is a little research and an adventurous spirit to find and savor the quirkiness that is Philadelphia.
The Mütter Museum
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
19 South 22nd Street
Philadelphia, Pa 19103
The Mütter Museum educates over 130,000 visitors a year with its exhibits of specimens and medical instruments, some of which are on display in what is known as a “cabinet museum” setting, a style that was popularized in the 19th century. To remind the public that advancements in medicine is a culture unto itself, there are such exhibits “Cast and Livers of Chang and Eng Bunker” where conjoined twins, (born in 1811 in modern-day Thailand), arrived in the U.S. in 1829 and lived as performers. Upon their deaths in 1874, the College of Physicians performed an autopsy and plastered their torsos, displaying to the public their meshed livers.
Mounted in a glass cabinet as if exhumed from the catacombs of Paris, there is the Hyrtl Skull Collection that features 139 human skulls that Austrian Joseph Hyrtl studied in an attempt to dismiss phrenological claims that cranial features were indicative as to how intelligent an individual was, and could provide proof that race created certain differences in anatomy.
Philadelphia Magic Gardens
1020 South Street
Philadelphia, Pa 19147
For a brush with whimsy, visit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, open every day. The garden enterprise began as a beautification project in South Street in the 1960s for Isaiah Zagar and his wife Julia, where sculpture mosaics stemmed from excavations in area grottos and tunnels over a fourteen-year period. Today, PMG is a “mosaicked visionary art environment” that includes such eclectic exhibitions as Cabinet of Curiosities where visitors can interact with materials, tools and inspirational folk art pieces, and Mosaic Musings, an extemporaneous lecture about the stories behind many of the pieces of art that are made from everything from tiles to mirrors to glass bottles and bicycle tires.
Eastern State Penitentiary
2027 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, Pa 19130
If a visitor would like to see a queen beheaded, then the Eastern State Penitentiary is an ideal spot for such a macabre spectacle. Every year, in commemoration of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, the penitentiary hosts the Bastille Day Festival where a Marie Antoinette is led to a functioning guillotine where, in the past, 3,000 Tastykakes have been thrown from the prison’s towers, much to the delight of storming French revolutionaries. Throughout the year, visitors can tour cells that once incarcerated such notorious felons as “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al Capone, whose cell had oriental rugs and a cabinet radio. Tourists are handed keys to cells so that they can learn how to open one of the massive doors, while also embarking on tours to the Soup Kitchen (prison slang for the dining hall), and the chaplain’s office where murals are on display.