Philadelphia, PA - Just Beneath the surface of the city's historic, hip, eternally proud Philadelphia region, a treasure trove of wacky weirdness emerges. It's here the visitors can satisfy a craving for quirky, nerdy, creepy and otherwise out-there interests such as the country’s largest pizza memorabilia collection, the oldest hospital (replete with surgical amphitheater), a picnic-friendly urban cemetery, the oldest ginkgo tree and only brick-and-mortar homage to the one and only Philadelphia Mummers, to name a few. Here’s a look at some of the all-American city’s wonderfully odd attractions.
The Human Body:
- Drexel University College of Medicine: Dissected woman named Harriet. Near the bookstore entrance on Drexel’s Queen Lane (East Falls) campus, what appears to be string art in the shape of a person is actually the dissected nervous system of an African-American woman who reportedly worked at the college and left her body to science in 1888. The medical school’s foremost anatomy professor at the time spent five months picking apart and reconstructing Harriet. Also fascinating: the nearby millions of resource materials documenting the history of women in medicine and homeopathy, open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., appointment requested. 2900 W. Queen Lane, (215) 991-8340, drexel.edu/medicine
- Dr. and Mrs. Edwin Weaver III Historical Dental Museum: Terrifying dentists’ tools. It’s worth letting one’s mouth go agape at the antique (and slightly horrifying) drills, chairs,
X-ray machines, furnaces, photographs, pearl-handled tools and recreated Victorian office at this minute yet powerful museum, a repository of more than 150 years of dentistry in America. 3223 N. Broad Street, (215) 707-2799, temple.edu/dentistry
- Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia: Historic medical oddities. The Mütter displays thousands of items spanning the medical realm, from deformed and diseased body parts to the death cast of “Siamese twins” Chang and Eng to pieces of Albert Einstein’s gloriously nerdy brain. Filled with some impossible-to-believe specimens, the collections are still used today to advance medical science. 19 S. 22nd Street, (215) 560-8564, muttermuseum.org
- Pennsylvania Hospital19th-century amphitheater: 19th-century amphitheater, seven-inch tumor. As they peer into the operating amphitheater of the first chartered hospital in the nation, visitors are reminded that early 19th-century surgeries were performed in front of an audience, with no electricity, no sterile technique and a choice of rum, opium or a “tap on the head with a mallet” for anesthesia. A seven-inch tumor removed during one such procedure by Dr. Philip Syng Physick is on view in the Historic Library. Guided and self-guided tours available Monday through Friday. 800 Spruce Street, (215) 829-3370, uphs.upenn.edu/paharc
Flora & Fauna:
- The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University: Dino fossils, 18 million specimens. It’s easy to see why biologists at The Academy of Natural Sciences have risen to the forefront of ecological and biodiversity research: They draw from a plant- and animal-specimen collection that’s 18 million strong. Absolutely anyone can get lost ogling historic animal dioramas and live walking stick insects, exploring Dinosaur Hall and walking through the tropical live butterfly exhibit. 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 299-1000, ansp.org
- Bartram’s Garden: Oldest ginkgo and more. Naturalist John Bartram contributed immeasurably to the cataloguing and preservation of native plant life, as seen at his homestead, a 45-acre estate on the banks of the Schuylkill River. Botany enthusiasts and those who just enjoy lovely gardens can view one of the first plant catalogs in the U.S., along with the Franklinia alatamaha tree that Bartram saved from extinction and the oldest Ginkgo biloba tree in North America. 5400 Lindbergh Boulevard, (215) 729-5281, bartramsgarden.org
- Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion: Bugs and butterflies galore.
Proving there’s nothing people won’t collect is the most diverse arthropod zoo on the East Coast. Those who prefer flying creatures over crawling ones can step into the 7,000-square-foot tropical pavilion, home to thousands of fluttering butterflies representing 60 species. 8046 Frankford Avenue, (215) 335-9500, phillybutterflypavilion.com
- Wagner Free Institute of Science: Natural Victoriana.
This opened-in-1865 National Historical Landmark offers a view of a Victorian-era science museum. The 100,000 specimens include mounted birds and mammals, insects, fossils, skeletons, rocks, one of the oldest mineral collections in the country and the earliest-discovered American saber-toothed tiger skull, found during an 1886 expedition. 1700 W. Montgomery Avenue, (215) 763-6529, wagnerfreeinstitute.org
- The Franklin Institute: Organs, galaxies, electricity and more. Gears, pulleys and power sources; a human-powered light bulb, a hair-raising static activity and Ben Franklin’s Lightning Rod; the Space Command exhibition and the Fels Planetarium; and a walk-through heart and crawl-through brain cells are just some of the science-y reasons this museum is the busiest one in the tri-state area. 222 N. 20th Street, (215) 448-1200, fi.edu
- Museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation: World-changing discoveries. How are plastics made? Where do crayons get their colors? How can scientists measure oxygen on Mars? A free visit to this Old City spot reveals the weird and wonderful world of matter and materials. Exhibits profile the amazing successes, astonishing failures and strange surprises behind discoveries that changed the world. 315 Chestnut Street, (215) 925-2222, chemheritage.org
- Free Library of Philadelphia’s Parkway Central Library: Poe, Dickens, Potter and more. The Rare Book Department offers “History of the Book” tours six days a week at 11 a.m., as well as an ongoing exhibition of its collections of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Beatrix Potter and medieval manuscripts. 1901 Vine Street, (215) 686-5322, freelibrary.org
- The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia: Ulysses, Dracula and Alice’s Adventures Bookworms find hundreds of thousands of pages—including rare volumes, manuscripts and decorative and fine art at this residence-turned-library. Treasures from the founders’ collection include the only surviving copy of Benjamin Franklin’s first Poor Richard Almanack, the manuscript of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the papers of poet Marianne Moore, Bram Stoker’s notes for Dracula and Lewis Carroll’s own copy of the first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 2008-2010 Delancey Place, (215) 732-1600, rosenbach.org
- Pizza Brain: World’s largest collection of pizza stuff. The world’s first pizza culture museum and eatery boasts the largest collection of pizza-related items in the world, with more than 550 artifacts in rotation, earning it a coveted Guinness World Record. The curated and chronologically organized collection includes a Starship Enterprise pizza cutter, historical advertisements, LPs and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. 2313 Frankford Avenue, (215) 291-2965, pizzabrain.org
- The Stoogeum: Moe, Larry and Curly memorabilia.
Fans of The Three Stooges can relive the hilarity at the headquarters of the 2,000-member fan club and the world’s first center devoted to the lovable characters. The Stoogeum is open every Thursday and on other weekdays by appointment for visitors who wish to peruse nearly 100,000 pieces of memorabilia dating back to 1918. 904 Sheble Lane, Ambler, (267) 468-0810, stoogeum.com
- Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine Shoe Museum: Ancient to modern kicks.
Carrie Bradshaw has nothing on the Shoe Museum, an incredibly small non-lending shoe library that displays 250 pairs (out of a collection of more than 900), including ancient Egyptian burial sandals, Joan Rivers’ Manolo Blahniks and Bernie Parent’s Stanley Cup skates. Tours are free and by appointment only on Wednesdays and Fridays. 148 N. 8th Street, (215) 625-5243, podiatry.temple.edu/about/shoe-museum
- Eastern State Penitentiary: Defunct prison with modern viewpoint. In the heart of the residential Fairmount neighborhood, an imposing 19th-century stone structure the size of a city block once housed Al Capone and “Slick Willie” Sutton—while trying to rehabilitate them. Visitors can tour death row, the hospital, solitary confinement, dining hall and synagogue, and then return in the fall when Eastern State transforms into Terror Behind the Walls. 2027 Fairmount Avenue, (215) 236-3300, easternstate.org
- James A. Michener Art Museum: Jailhouse-turned-art museum. Permanent and special exhibits of paintings, sculpture and photography are contained within an imposing 100-year-old stone shelter that spent most of its life as the Bucks County prison. Expansive galleries and outdoor sculpture bring an almost surreal sense of vibrancy and modernism to the former penitentiary, now named for the native Bucks County author. 138 S. Pine Street, Doylestown, (215) 340-9800, michenermuseum.org
- Masonic Temple: Dizzying display of international architectural styles.
What looks like a Norman church from the outside contains a Moorish Oriental Hall fashioned to resemble Alhambra, a Gothic Hall that aesthetically mimics the European Knights Templar halls and more. The National Historic Landmark is home to the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and offers guided tours of its seven elaborately decorated halls. 1 N. Broad Street, (215) 988-1900, pamasonictemple.org
- Mercer Museum: Hoarder’s castle.
Stuffed inside every conceivable nook, cranny and crevice of the six-story concrete castle are 40,000 artifacts chronicling early-American working life. Collected and cataloged by 19th-century archaeologist and tile maker Henry Mercer, finds include a whaleboat, a stagecoach and a Conestoga Wagon—all of which hang from the ceiling. Pine Street & Scout Way, Doylestown, (215) 345-0210, mercermuseum.org
- Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens: Street-side mosaic marvel.
“Magical” may be the best word to describe this 3,000-square-foot art environment spanning five city lots covered by a mosaic labyrinth of mirror, tile and reclaimed materials designed and inlaid by folk artist Isaiah Zagar. 1020 South Street, (215) 733-0390, philadelphiasmagicgardens.org
- Wharton Esherick Museum: Crafty wooden houses.
One the most interesting architectural landmarks in the United States is a residence inspired by Pennsylvania barns, German expressionist design and the free-flowing curves found in nature. The onetime home and studio of the “dean of American craftsmen” shows off Esherick’s curved walls, rooftops and staircases and sinewy hand-carved furniture and sculptures. During the week, groups of five or more can reserve a tour slot; everyone else can book weekend visits. 1520 Horseshoe Trail, Malvern, (610) 644-5822, whartonesherickmuseum.org
- Whispering Benches: Voice transmitter.
Two people sitting on far ends of the Smith Memorial Arch’s 50-foot stone bench can whisper and hear each other clearly. The memorial commemorates Pennsylvania’s Civil War heroes, even though most people use it to whisper sweet nothings. Avenue of the Republic near Please Touch Museum, Fairmount Park, associationforpublicart.org
Cars & ’Copters:
- American Helicopter Museum and Education Center: More than three-dozen flyers. Civilian and military helicopters, autogiros, convertiplanes—and the world’s only V-22 Osprey on public display—wow visitors. Films, memoirs, documents and ’copters old and new detail the past, present and future of rotary aircraft. 1220 American Boulevard, West Chester, (610) 436-9600, americanhelicopter.museum
- Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum: 65 racing cars.
Two Bugattis, two Ferraris, two Ford GTs and a Cobra Daytona coupe are arranged on mock racetracks by historical theme. Every other Saturday, the museum takes members of its collection for spins around the 3.5-acre blacktop behind the facility. 6825 Norwitch Drive, (215) 365-7233, simeonemuseum.org
- Logan Square: Original city square and former public execution grounds. The stunning Swann Memorial Fountain centerpiece and surrounding titans of culture—the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the like—belie Logan Circle’s rather morbid past. Originally called Northwest Square, the public space hosted its fair share of public hangings and served as a burial ground. 19th Street & Benjamin Franklin Parkway
- Laurel Hill Cemetery: Bucolic graveyard. With a beautiful landscape, magnificent sculpture and sweeping views, this National Historic Landmark (and still active burial ground) welcomes tour-goers, picnickers, joggers and those who want to meet its interesting residents—including six Titanic passengers, 40 Civil War generals and notable local names such as Rittenhouse, Strawbridge, Widener and Kalas. Visitors can enjoy free self-guided or cell phone tours. 3822 Ridge Avenue, (215) 228-8200, thelaurelhillcemetery.org
- Dirty Frank’s Mural: Dive bar and mural of notable Franks. There’s no sign for beloved dive bar Dirty Frank’s, but every local knows to look for the corner mural depicting a collection of similarly named people (and things). On the wall: Ben Franklin, Frankie Avalon, Aretha Franklin, a frankfurter, Frankenstein and Pope Francis. It’s one of the cheekier creations from the esteemed Mural Arts Philadelphia. Dirty Frank’s, 347 S. 13th Street, (215) 732-5010, dirtyfranksbar.com; Mural Arts, (215) 925-3633, muralarts.org
- Mummers Museum: Parade showplace. An art deco-inspired building is the official repository for all historical items related to Philadelphia’s New Year’s Day parade. Here, visitors discover the roots of the elaborate, colorful and always memorable Mummers Parade and performance competitions. 1100 S. 2nd Street, (215) 336-3050, mummersmuseum.com
- Ringing Rocks Park: Sonorous rocks.
Northern Bucks County is one of the few places in the world where rocks can be struck with objects to produce different musical tones, or “pings.” Though there’s a name for this type of rock—sonorous or lithophonic rocks—geologists have never fully explained the reason for their musical aptitude. Ringing Rocks Road, Upper Black Eddy, (215) 348-6114, buckscounty.org
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