Philadelphia, home to the Philadelphia Phillies Major League Baseball team, gets more than 40 million visitors a year. Apart from the more immediately popular attractions, such as Independence National Historical Park, the Liberty Bell Center and Philadelphia Zoo, the city is also rich in strange and quite unusual attractions for connoisseurs of the bizarre. Visitors looking for the weird and wonderful can take in the likes of the Masonic Hall and Eastern State Penitentiary along with numerous other odd locations.
A weird city – in the best possible sense
The so-called Birthplace of America retains much of the strange and unique urban character that distinguished it when William Penn and Edgar Allen Poe resided here, and there are many outsider art projects and odd museums to drop into.
Mount Moriah Cemetery
This famous abandoned cemetery was opened in 1855 and is distinguished by its gothic mausoleums and Romanesque gateway. Today it is being steadily reclaimed by the surrounding forest and is largely forgotten. Strolling around this uniquely beautiful architectural and natural space, visitors might be forgiven for thinking they’ve been magically transported back to ancient Greece.
Philadelphia Free Library
Connoisseurs of the unusual come here to see Charles Dickens’s stuffed pet raven, Grip. The bird, as well as making an appearance in Barnaby Rudge, was almost certainly the inspiration for Poe’s famous poem, The Raven. Grip the Raven now stands proudly at the center of a cluster of Poe and Dickens memorabilia in the library and is always glad of a visit.
The Mütter Museum can be found in the College of Physicians headquarters and is a showcase for unusual displays of a medical nature. Here can be found the skeleton of North America’s tallest man as well as a whole batch of microscope slides bearing sections of Einstein’s brain. The collection was started in 1858, and its ornate Victorian cabinets with their strange displays have always attracted a trickle of visitors in search of the city’s weird underbelly.
Eastern State Penitentiary
The first prison of its kind in the world, Eastern State Penitentiary was opened in 1829 and looks like a medieval castle. Designed to treat prisoners humanely, it actually drove many of them insane, and many died of cold, starvation and disease before they were even formally sentenced. Dickens paid a visit in 1842 and was not impressed, and Al Capone later spent some time here. There are a number of tours of the disused prison on offer, including a popular Haunted Halloween tour.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
This is a huge gallery built to showcase the bizarre and colorful mosaic work of artist Isaiah Zagar. The works on display consist mainly of found objects and cover half a block of the city with a bewildering array of textures, tiles and color. Trained guides lead tours around the gardens and there are regular dance performances and concerts.
Whether visitors come to Philadelphia on a first trip or for the umpteenth time, there’s always something new to see here or to explore in more depth. Those looking for something a bit more on the unusual side will also be gratified by what’s on offer in this historic city’s numerous nooks and crannies.