You may know Philadelphia for its iconic sites such as the Rocky Steps, Liberty Bell, LOVE sculpture, and Reading Terminal Market, but did you know you can also see a piece of Einstein’s brain, marvel at 19th century robotics Maillardet’s Automaton and take a stroll down the oldest residential street in America? These and many more curiosities and unexpected gems are ready to be explored in the City of Brotherly Love.
Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum is one of the most unique and interesting museums in the United States featuring collections of fascinating scientific discoveries about the human body, along with antique medical equipment, anatomical and pathological specimens and much more. Visitors to the Mutter Museum are able to view the conjoined liver of Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, slides of Albert Einstein’s brain, and the mystery surrounding the famous “Soap Lady.”
The Museum’s Historical Medical Library is now open to the public for the first time in its 200-plus year history. Weekend visitors to the museum can now head upstairs to view rare artwork and books in a historic library which was previously only accessible to researchers with appointments. Find out more here: www.muttermuseum.org/
Wagner Free Institute of Science
This natural history museum is a rare example of a Victorian era scientific society, with a museum, research centre, library, and educational facilities. The Wagner Free Institute of Science boasts more than 100,000 specimens including fossils, shells, minerals, mounted animal skeletons and skins displayed in original wood and glass cabinets. More details here: www.wagnerfreeinstitute.org
The Franklin Institute
The Franklin Institute’s innovative exhibits, films, and hands-on experiences demonstrate how fun and interesting science can be. One of the most famous and popular museums in Philadelphia, it houses some fascinating gems including a theremin, a prototype synthesizer which is controlled by movements of the player’s hands without any actual physical contact with the machine. Another fascinating museum curiosity is Maillardet’s Automaton, an early mechanic ‘robot’, that mimicked human behaviour. Built by 18th-century Swiss clockmaker Henri Maillardet, Maillardet’s Automaton was programmed to write out three poems and draw four sketches via mechanical means. Feeling curious? Browse here: www.fi.edu
Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum
Racing fans will be in seventh heaven at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum which houses the world’s greatest collections of racing sports cars. The museum’s collection consists of approximately 75 racing sports cars and has been assembled over more than 50 years by Frederick A. Simeone, a retired neurosurgeon and native of Philadelphia. All interesting information and more here: www.simeonemuseum.org
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
A mesmerizing mosaic labyrinth created by artist Isaiah Zagar covers an indoor and outdoor space equivalent to half a city block. Zagar has devoted himself to beautifying the South Street neighbourhood since the late 1960s. In 1991 he started decorating the walls of vacant lots near his studios with mosaic. When the owner of the lots wanted to remove his work and sell the land, the local community rushed to support Zagar. The artist’s creation quickly became incorporated as a non-profit organization, was saved and opened in 2008 to the general public. www.phillymagicgardens.org
Laurel Hill Cemetery
A 78-acre National Historic Landmark and America’s second oldest cemetery, Laurel Hill was the first architecturally designed cemetery in the country and is laid out on a series of winding paths above the Schuylkill River.
There are some wonderfully aesthetic tombstones and mausoleums to explore, including the William Warner tomb which shows the soul coming out of the tomb in a puff of smoke.
Fairmount Park is one of the country’s largest park system in the U.S, with more than 2,000 acres of parkland featuring miles of trails, biking and hiking paths, an orchard, greenhouses, multiple playgrounds, the country’s oldest zoo, and the city’s iconic Boathouse Row. All details here: www.myphillypark.org
This 32-house alley is America’s oldest residential street, going back over 300 years. The quaint cobblestone alley is lined with traditional red brick homes with old-fashioned flower boxes and shutters, beautifully preserved by the Elfreth’s Alley Association which was founded in 1934.
Visitors can tour 126 Elfreth’s Alley, which is now the Elfreth’s Alley Museum, here you can learn about dressmakers, shoemakers, and other artisans who lived in the house, as well as about the larger history of the Alley. More information here: www.elfrethsalley.org
The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau has come up with a suggested itinerary taking in the very best of Unexpected Philadelphia. Click here to read more.