Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is the birthplace of the United States of America. The city has a tremendous number of world class museums and cultural institutions. But it also has a playful side with unique and quirky places to visit and fun things to do.
In many ways, the weird museums in Philadelphia are a reflection of the city’s playful side. We recently visited five distinctive Philadelphia museums and enjoyed what we found.
Unusual Philadelphia Museums
Imagine an entire three-floor museum fully devoted to The Three Stooges. In fact, The Stoogeum – tucked away in suburban Philadelphia office park – is the world’s first and only Three Stooges museum, and it serves as the headquarters of the Three Stooges fan club.
We only recently realized that the Stoogeum was essentially down the street from our house, so we figured we needed to check it out on one of the few Saturdays it’s open every year.
Not being fans of the comedic trio, we weren’t sure what to expect. What we found was a serious museum documenting the Stooges’ careers and the memorabilia surrounding them. The place is filled with over 100,000 objects, including original posters, magazines, photos, movie props, toys and even a pinball machine you can play.
Laura says this is a little nerdy, but I thought it was cool to see Larry Fine’s driver’s license, Joe Besser’s passport and driver’s license and over a dozen contracts with the William Morris Agency. We stopped in the middle of our visit to do the math and found that the $1,500 they earned per week in 1935 equates to nearly $25,000 a week in today’s dollars. Definitely serious business. The museum also includes a movie theater showing reels from different eras of the Stooges’ career.
Visiting tip: The Stoogeum hours are sporadic (updates posted on the museum’s website). There is ample parking.
The Philadelphia Magic Gardens
The Philadelphia Magic Gardens is the visionary urban environment created by Isaiah Zagar on downtown Philadelphia’s South Street. Using reclaimed materials, Zagar has created this unusual and unexpected space in the middle of the city. Just walking down the street toward the museum, you can see people stopping, squinting and peering through the open spaces in the exterior walls trying to figure out what exactly they’re looking at.
The Philadelphia Magic Gardens are part museum and part spectacle. At first, your eyes wander over the walls as you attempt to take in the totality of the space. However, as you focus in, you see the small spaces and playful details that make this place so unique.
Compared to mosaics around the world, you can’t help but be inspired by their size and scale – large, irregular tiles completing massive mosaics. Visiting the Philadelphia Magic Gardens is an unusual way to spend an afternoon.
Visiting: Hours are generally 11:00am-6:00pm, although sometimes later in the summer. Closed on Tuesdays. The gardens can frequently close early for special events. Parking is available on street or in the parking garage.
The Mutter Museum at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia has gained international notoriety since opening in 1858. Originally built to improve medical education through the preservation of specimens, the museum has also gained attention among fans of the macabre and unusual. You can view parts of Einstein’s brain, the original Siamese Twins and a host of organs preserved in glass jars.
In recent years, a made-for-TV documentary has put the Mutter Museum on the map and the visitors flowed in. However, looking at this museum as a more than some kind of freak show, you begin to see the important role it has played in medical education over the last 150 years.
Visiting tip: Many items may not be suitable for children.
Pizza Brain – The Museum of Pizza Culture
The rapidly revitalizing community of Philadelphia’s Fishtown is home to Pizza Brain – The Museum of Pizza Culture. Pizza Brain is essentially a restaurant with a lot of cool pizza stuff. It is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as having the largest collection of pizza memorabilia in the world, so we were expecting a little more “museum” quality to the place.
Even still, in every corner, you’ll find strange mementos and kitschy tokens in homage to fast food Italian style. Now, if you claim to be a pizza museum and you serve pizza, well, your pizza better be damn good. And Pizza Brain delivers one of the most remarkable pizza experiences we’ve ever had!
Visiting: Admission is free, but try a pizza to support the cause. Parking is available on the street.
The Mummers Museum
There is arguably nothing more identifiable of Philadelphia culture than the Mummers. The mummers (mummer means “mask” in German) is anyone who dresses up in “costumed splendor” to sing or dance in the annual New Year’s Day parade.
Mummers are organized into clubs for the purpose of parade and competition (Comic, Fancy, String Band and Fancy Brigade). With roots dating back to immigrants in 1680, the modern Mummers movement and parade became a city-sponsored event in 1901.
The Mummers Museum is devoted to the history and culture of this unique event and features a number of costumes, some of which you can put on. Unfortunately, the museum is a bit worn and dated, but it helps visitors make sense of this quirky cultural phenomena.
Visiting tip: There is ample on-street parking.
We were guests of The Stoogeum and The Philadelphia Magic Gardens. Our opinions the colorful, historic, unusual, and tasty are our own.