For the final 2018 edition of the Tell-Tale Traveler, I have decided to spotlight the “City of Brotherly Love,” Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The original purpose of Philadelphia was to be a place where it’s inhabitants could live freely with the Quaker principles of openness and intellectualism. Religious and political freedom was encouraged in Philadelphia from the beginning and would become the core principles of the United States. Philadelphia is a city rich in history but it is also home to many odd and unusual locations, so many in fact that I might need to spend a week in Philly to see them all. Unfortunately, during my visit to Philly, I was only there for about 20 hours but I did manage to make a few strange stops, two of which were actually on my bucket list.
The first bucket list item to be checked off was a tour of Eastern State Penitentiary. This prison was groundbreaking in its wagon wheel design and quite expensive to build. The facility opened its door in 1829. It housed many notable inmates including Al Capone and Willie Sutton. Capone had quite a posh cell, which included fine furniture, a lamp that I would love to have in my own house, oriental rugs and to appeal to Capone’s artistic side: oil paintings and a radio. Another famous resident was Pep, “the Cat Murdering Dog.” Stories vary as to how Pep came to spend his days at Eastern State with some saying the pup killed a cat belonging to the Governor’s wife. Other stories claim that Pep was donated by someone, possibly the Governor, to improve the moral of those housed at the prison. Pep was given an inmate number and his mug shot was taken before his life sentence began. You can also buy Pep themed items in the gift shop. I walked out with a stuffed Pep and a t-shirt with his mugshot. The penitentiary would close in 1971 because the building was beginning to fall apart. The building now stands empty, looming over Philadelphia, haunted by the spirits of its former residents. Reports claim that a ghost guard has been spotted in one of the towers and many of the cellblocks claim ghostly activity as well. Cellblock 12 is known for laughter and hushed voices, while Cellblock 6 is home to fast moving shadow figures. History buffs and ghost enthusiasts alike now flock to Eastern State to tour the former facility, both during the day for historical tours and for after-hours ghost investigations.
Now, on to bucket list item number two, the Mutter Museum! I love museums and the Mutter, also known as the Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, has been on my list for many moons now. It’s a macabre little museum filled with items that are not for the faint of heart. As it is a medical museum, one can expect to find dry and wet preservations, antique medical tools and even a collection of skulls. The Mutter is one of two places in the World where you can view slivers of Einstein’s brain. There is also an exhibit on conjoined twins that includes the liver and death cast of Chang and Yang Bunker, Siamese twins that worked as performers before retiring to live as farmers in the United States. I also found the exhibit on Injury, Death and Healing following the Civil War to be particularly fascinating, as I have an interest in the rise of spiritualism, also known as the “Harmonial Philosophy” that followed the Civil War. The Mutter Museum also has a fabulous little gift shop featuring hoodies that display the museum’s more macabre exhibits on the back, as well as other items relating to the various exhibits that you see as you explore the museum. The Mutter is a must visit for those interested in medicine, the macabre or for those who enjoy learning a bit about history.
I decided to follow up my trip to the Mutter with a second museum, one that is a little less odd but still contains some very interesting items. The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is the oldest natural science research museum in America. Though my friend’s and I came to the museum for the dinosaurs, we quite enjoyed the exhibits about present day creatures as well. They even had a Sloth skeleton, which honestly, was one of the cutest things ever! Or maybe it’s just me and I really love sloths. The museum also boasts an area called Dinosaur Hall. I believe there were about 25 to 30 different dinosaurs on display in the Hall including a T-Rex and a Hadrosaur. There was even an area of the museum where you could watch as museum staff cleaned various items that had been received from archeological dig sites. It was quite interesting to get a look at the process firsthand. This is a great museum for adults and kids alike and you will not be disappointed.
Though I did not get to visit the Rocky statue while in Philadelphia, I did get to visit the grave of Rocky’s wife, Adrian. You must be thinking, “but Adrian is a fictional character?” Many visitors have probably said the same thing when stumbling across the tombstone of Adrian Balboa at Laurel Hill Cemetery. As it turns out, Laurel Hill was actually used as the filming location for the 2006 film, “Rocky Balboa” and the headstone was actually a prop that remained when filming ended. Laurel Hill is a beautiful, very serene cemetery that overlooks the Schuylkill River. The earliest graves in the cemetery date back to 1836 and many civil war soldiers and politicians have called Laurel Hill their final resting place. The cemetery is also reported to be haunted and there is even a blog on the cemetery website that attempts to choose the top five residents that could be haunting the cemetery. I’m quite partial to Catherine Drinkhouse-Smith. Her monument sits not far from Adrian Balboa and reads like an actual obituary. She was also a known spiritualist so she might be likely to spend her afterlife roaming the cemetery. Visitors to the Laurel Hill can grab a map or access an audio tour of the cemetery on their mobile phone. The cemetery also offers various events and tours throughout the year.
After a long day of the strange and unusual, my friend’s and I decided to head to Devil’s Alley Bar and Grille for dinner. We were seated up stairs at a corner table with a great view for people watching on the street below. The restaurant is dimly lit and was surprisingly quiet. I ordered the fried green tomatoes and sweet fries. The tomatoes were excellent. They were served with a bit of cheese on top and a super yummy red sauce. There were so many sweet fries that I was only able to eat about half but they were quite good as well. The drinks at Devil’s Alley were to die for! I could have sampled every one. Each drink sounded like a fruit filled concoction from Heaven, or Hell, depending on how many drinks you have. I finally settled on trying two drinks. My first choice was the Strawberry Lemonade, a lovely blend of vodka, strawberry puree, lemonade and a splash of soda. I decided to stick with vodka and picked the Blood Orange for my next cocktail. It contained vodka, blood orange liqueur, orange juice and muddled oranges. I enjoyed both drinks but the strawberry lemonade was so refreshing with a yummy sour note. My friends and I could have spent more time at Devil’s Alley sampling their cocktail menu but we had to make one final stop before leaving Philadelphia.
You didn’t think I’d leave one of the most historic cities in America without doing a ghost tour, did you? For this, I chose the Spirits of ’76 Ghost Tour. They had fantastic reviews and the walking tour takes visitors to twenty haunted and historical sites in Philadelphia. Our tour guides told us tales of the ghosts of Independence Hall and Carpenter’s Hall, a dancing Benjamin Franklin statue and even a story about Edgar Allan Poe. We also visited filming locations from National Treasure and the Sixth Sense. One of the highlights of the tour was a stop at the Liberty Bell. The old Pine Street Church and Cemetery were beautiful but the cemetery definitely had an eerie feel to it. The tour was a perfect way to learn more about the history of Philadelphia, all the while learning more about the spirits that still call the city home.
My one suggestion for anyone planning to visit Philadelphia, take an Uber…everywhere! The driver’s there are in a hurry and will drive on sidewalks (I saw it happen) to get around you so save yourself some stress and let a local take you on your strange and macabre journey of Philadelphia. You’ll enjoy the adventure that much more. Happy travels in 2019!
Tell-Tale Traveler Strange Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Itinerary
1) Eastern State Penitentiary –2027 Fairmount Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19130 - (215) 236-3300 – Hours: Monday through Sunday 10:00am to 5:00pm - Cost: Online: $14.00 Adult, $10.00 Child ages 7 to 12 and $12.00 Senior, At the door: $16.00 Adult, $12.00 Child ages 7 to 12 and $14.00 Senior - www.easternstate.org
2) Mutter Museum – 19 S. 22nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 – (215) 560-8564 - Hours: Monday through Sunday 10:00am to 5:00pm – Cost: $18.00 Adult, $15.00 Military with ID, $16.00 Senior 65 Years and up, $13.00 students with ID, $13.00 Child (6-17), Free for Child (5 and Under) - www.muttermuseum.org
3) The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University – 1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19103 – (215) 299-1000 - Monday through Friday 10:00am to 4:00pm, Saturday and Sunday 10:00am to 5:30pm – Cost: Varies depending on when you visit and how you purchase your tickets – www.ansp.org
4) Laurel Hill Cemetery - 3822 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19132 – (215) 228-8200 – Hours: Monday through Friday 8:00am to 4:30pm, Saturday and Sunday 9:30am to 4:30pm – www.thelaurelhillcemetery.org
5) Devil’s Alley – 1907 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 - (215) 751-0707 – Hours: Sunday and Monday 11:00amto 10:00pm, Tuesday through Thursday 11:00am to 11:00pm, Saturday and Sunday 10:00am to 12:00am - www.devilsalleybarandgrill.com/
6) Spirits of ’76 Walking Tour –325 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (215) 525-1776 - Tours times vary by the season but run daily in the warmer months - Cost: $19 per adult; $12.50 per child ages 3-12 - www.spiritsof76.com