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Trip Report Philadelphia: a couple of new/renewed museum visits

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This mini report is well past due, but it's been a bit busy in my little world. (Still should be at the moment, actually, but I decided to take a break.)

Anyway, there are two museums in Philadelphia that are relatively new that I've visited recently, and I really enjoyed both.

The first is the National Museum of American Jewish History; a Smithsonian affiliated museum, it's located on Independence Mall and has four floors of Jewish Americana, from colonial artifacts to a Conestoga wagon to immigration history, comedy, and tragedy. You start on the fourth floor and it's arranged chronologically, with interaction, judicious use of video, and unexpected delights (the Purim party comes to mind) along the way. To me it's a must for anyone interested in the American story and/or religious culture. I was there for about three hours and could have been longer if time had permitted. It can be somewhat reading intensive, and not all of the lighting allows for that to be done comfortably, but it's so beautifully done altogether that that's a minor caveat. Oh, and the gift shop is gorgeous. http://www.nmajh.org/ (Looks like they've got a great day planned for December 25th!)

The other is the newly reopened Philadelphia History Museum, formerly the Atwater Kent Museum and housed in the same building on 7th Street. It's not large, and the main room downstairs is devoted to a floor-sized map of the city. That room is where educational tours start and various meetings/seminars are held, so it's not a waste of space in the context of use. (Some people have wondered why the room wasn't used for further exhibitions.) Upstairs, some fairly amazing (the wampum belt given to William Penn by the Lenape, George Washington's desk) and what would seem to be fairly mundane (Mason-Dixon line mile marker, a Bulletin box) objects are grouped by theme, rather than chronologically. On my first visit, I wasn't totally thrilled with the whole thing, but later visits really increased my enthusiasm for the system. There's a lot to see and think about, and the stories of all of the objects are conveniently accessed on the iPads mounted horizontally in strategic locations. It's basically like someone took the contents of the most fabulous attic in the city and arranged them so that their connectivity to each other and the heart of Philadelphia would be displayed under really great lighting. There are special exhibits as well, and a very accessible portrait gallery with some pretty awesome original content. (The aforementioned Penn, Peggy Shippen, folks like that...) http://www.philadelphiahistory.org/

Just a mention here that this is right around the block from what I consider a must-see for Philadelphians, the Dream Garden Mosaic (Tiffany studios, from a Maxfield Parrish design) in the Curtis Building. It's a glass mosaic mural with beautiful coloring and a tendency to change depending on your angle of view; it's free: http://www.visitphilly.com/music-art/philadelphia/dream-garden/

Another place that, I'm a bit embarrassed to say, was renovated quite some time ago but which I hadn't revisited until recently, is the Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery. The building itself is terrific on the inside (love the pink!) and the arrangement of the signers of the Declaration/Constitution and other historical artworks is engaging. In the back is Charles Willson Peale's "studio", with many more portraits and other artifacts of the Peale family. http://www.nps.gov/inde/second-bank.htm

Of course, there are a lot of other good reasons to come to Philadelphia, but I wanted to share these few that are not on every tourist's itinerary.