20 April 2015

Philadelphia: The City of Granddaughterly Love

My DH and I visited our oldest granddaughter in Philadelphia last weekend.  It was the first time either of us had spent any time there, much to Izzy's chagrin, who moved there almost two years ago, so she planned an action-packed day and night for us.

We started off with an early breakfast of coffee and some fresh fruit first thing in the morning, having a jolly good cataching-up before heading out to a place called Spread Bagelry.

Our charming corner table
The Spread Bagelry crew in action
Loved this decorative skateboard hanging on the wall
 They prepare a Montreal style bagel  -- and no, I don't really know what that means, but it was delicious.  So soft, so crusty, so delicious!  They also serve Amish cream cheese spreads (don't really know what that means, either, but there were a lot of Amish-style homemade foods that I saw that weekend) and freshly-squoze orange juice.  All in all, it was an excellent second start to our day.

From there, we would walk to our first major destination of the day: the Mütter Museum, a place that has long captured my DH's imagination, and mine, too, come to that. For those of you who are not already aware of this place, it is a museum dedicated to medical oddities that, until the last couple of decades or so, was not open to the public.  One had to be a medical professional, or carry with one a letter of introduction from a medical professional, to see the collection.

Windowbox flowers

A beautiful Episcopal church
Bubba & Izzy in front of the Mütter

As we were standing in the admission line to pay, I overheard the guests in front of us being told that photographs were forbidden. I admit, I was planning to take a covert photo or two, but then I heard the reason why the photographs were verboten: not because of any damage that befall the exhibits, but because of the sensitive nature of them.  Out of the respect for the remains of the people who are immortalized there, one way or another, etc. Even I am not that big of a jerk, so I acquiesced.

Once I heard that, I politely explained that I was an amateur travel blogger and that I'd like permission to take a few photos inside that were not the remains of anybody. I was just as politely refused, but the docent said she would email me a few professional-quality images, and the next five photos that follow are all the property of the Mütter. It really was an extraordinary place.  I wish it had been less crowded -- there was at least one school group crowding in there that morning, and one other large group tour with a guide -- but it was a fascinating place to begin our tour of Philly.

One average human, one giant, one achondroplastic dwarf
The main gallery

Slide specimens of Einstein's brain
Their famous wall of skulls
There were two parts of the exhibit that drew my attention more than the others.  One was a free-standing vitrine showcasing Einstein's brain and the experiments that were done on it.  One of the above images shows a collection of slide specimens of slices from his brain that were 20 microns thick. Pieces of Einstein's brain were sent out around the world to researchers.  While his brain weighed a bit less than the average male's brain, the inferior parietal region was actually 15% larger than average.

The other display that struck me above all others was a series of fetal skeletons, from about one month old all the way up to post-natal.  They were so eerie in their gradations from small to large, each one looking less and less alien.  But the eeriest thing of all was that the right hand of one of fetal skeletons (somewhere in the middle, so maybe around 5-6 months old?) was waving inside the case, as if in a light breeze. Actually, it reminded me strongly of the movement of sea fans or anemones in an underwater current, languidly but steadily in motion. No doubt it was responding to the teenagers lumbering up and down the staircase, but I enjoyed pretending for a moment that it was alive.  Or haunted. Or both.

Philly Museum of Art
After spending about 90 minutes at the Mütter, we Ubered our way to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. ("Uber"ing being something new to me entirely, but which I embraced enthusiastically). Incidentally, I had been reading Bill Bryson's book, The Lost Continent: Travel In Small Town America a couple of days before arriving in Philly, where I was disheartened to learn that there are almost as many tourists who disembark at the bottom of the steps of the museum to take their photo with the Rocky statue and then get back on their tour bus, as tourists who actually go inside the museum.

We were obviously in the former group and got back in the car after our photo op.

Haha, just kidding.  Izzy was a pretty good guide for us, having visited several times before.  There were some Thomas Eakins that she and DH wanted to spend time with, so I obediently followed in their wake.  Luckily we were able to make photos with abandon here, and I did just that.  This is one of the best museums I've ever been in, probably second best after the Met in NYC.  I liked almost all of it, but I was strangely moved by some of the medieval art, particularly the recreation of a monastery courtyard and some altar pieces.  (Although considering that I'm a failed Chaucerian, perhaps not so strange after all.) Here is a random sampling of the 100+ photos I took whilst there:

This multi-figure Jacob Epstein piece, Social Consciousness, is what greeted us outside by the rear entrance.  Hint: if, like my DH, you find all of the steps out front a daunting prospect, simply pull around back, which is where the handicapped entrance is.

Izzy and Bubba spent a lot of time talking about this piece, which is one of their favorite Thomas Eakins paintings.  Me? Eh, not so much, but I was quite enchanted with this still life in the next room, as well as the cast of Abraham Lincoln's death mask and hands:

In the next room, which was huge, there was one piece that I spent a lot of time with: Eakins' The Gross Clinic, which dominated one wall.  It used to hang in the Mütter, I'm told, but now it's home is here.  It's an impressive piece, and the more time I spent with it, the more I kept seeing.  I'm not the artist in the family, and I'm not well educated about art at all, but there was something about this painting that mesmerized me. I wish I'd had my good camera with me to capture some of the details better, but I had to make do with my phone:

Here are some photos from the medieval section. I sat in that courtyard for several minutes, listening to the running water.

I took a picture of this one in honor of the Bad Lions blog that I follow.
Sauron, anyone?

I was interested to see Golgotha interpreted so literally here.
The Asian art wing was also pretty amazing, including multiple building and temple recreations:

After three hours, though, we were starting to experience museum fatigue.  Much, I suspect, as any readers right now are starting to experience it vicariously. So this is an excellent stopping off place for today, but I will continue with our walking, eating, and museum-ing in Part II, coming up soon...


  1. Those museums look amazing! Did you see the Soap Lady at the Mütter?

    1. There's a soap lady at the Mutter? Um, no, I don't remember seeing her.

    2. Stuff You Missed In History Class did an episode about her recently, it's fascinating. Here the Mutter page about her: http://muttermuseum.org/exhibitions/the-soap-lady/

  2. YAY Mutter Museum! I took a day trip there a long time ago with a friend and it was fantastic and totally worth all the traffic we got stuck in.

    Love the art museum pictures. Hooray for good Philly trip

    1. I have no idea why I didn't know before this trip how wonderful Philadelphia is. Why don't people talk about how amazing that city is?

  3. All that great stuff you posted and all I can say is ... GRAND daughter??? No way, surely you're a young 'un yourself?!
    But I will go back and persuse more thoroughly; did I see a blood covered scalpel zoom by?

    1. Well, we're not biologically related. But I still claim her. :-)

      And yes, that was Thomas Eakins' rendition of a blood-covered scalpel...

  4. All that great stuff you posted and all I can say is ... GRAND daughter??? No way, surely you're a young 'un yourself?!
    But I will go back and persuse more thoroughly; did I see a blood covered scalpel zoom by?

  5. YOU GOT TO GO TO THE MUTTER. So jealous.

    Rocky statue! (those movies are excellent, madam) Close-ups of paintings! Golgotha reference!

    Hm. Now I kind of want to go to Philadelphia.

  6. I love Philly! So many great museums - these two plus the newish Barnes. And great food everywhere. Looking forward to the next installment!

  7. I've been to Philadelphia but only with young children, so we mostly ended up in the Please Touch Museum, as I recall. A trip back as empty-nesters sounds like a really good idea!

  8. I attended a few company events here and I must say that I was impressed every time. The place for events in NYC was aesthetically pleasing with very good decorations and seats. The place had a great layout overall, and was at a comfortable temperature.

  9. Уes! Finally someone wrіtes abоut mezo.


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)