Hidden Treasures

Philadelphia is known for its variety of museums. Taking time out on the weekend to check out some of these collections is not only cost-effective, but also enlightening.

The best show for the money is the Independence Seaport Museum on Penn’s Landing. Located at 211 S. Columbus Blvd., it is a slick display of Delaware River artifacts. On Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., admission is free. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with $9 admission during the week.

The museum includes two floors of interactive displays, videos, educational games, historical information about Philly’s shipping heyday and some genuine small watercrafts. Docked around the corner are two national historic landmarks: the Spanish-American War-era USS Olympia cruiser and the WWII-era Becuna submarine. Admission to both is included with museum tickets.

Although the experience is worth the asking price, but the relative emptiness on Sunday mornings makes the free admission even sweeter. If you are taller than 5 feet 10 inches, don’t try getting through the Becuna on a crowded day.

At the corner of Washington Avenue and 2nd Street resides one of the city’s most unique museums. An oddly-shaped, tropically-tiled building houses the Mummers Museum. It was voted the City’s Best Museum by the 2004 AOL City Guide.

Inside are examples of Mummer outfits and a winner’s circle showcasing the most recent champions. Though the display itself is fairly small and in need of repair, its 1970s style has a Mummer-like flair that modern design might not evoke.

Admission – $2.50 with a student ID – guarantees a close-up look at some fabulously flamboyant costumes, a history lesson and a breakdown of the instruments and music played by Mummers. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For a taste of Victorian-era science, combine the themes of the Mutter Museum, located in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia at 19 S. 22nd St. and the Wagner Free Institute of Science, just west of Temple’s Main Campus at 17th and Montgomery streets. There is a picture in the Wagner Institute of one of its directors with a man presumed to be Edgar Allen Poe. Period architecture noticeably enhances the mood at both collections.

The Mutter Museum is a sort of cross between “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” and Mary Shelley-esque science fiction. All the exhibits are real, from the wall of human skulls to the collection of wildly deformed skeletons and fetuses in formaldehyde. The pieces were doggedly collected by Dr. Thomas Mutter, who must have been either so admirably dedicated to his craft that he desired physical specimens of every possible human ailment, or just really creepy. The museum, open daily except holidays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., offers a discounted $6 admission for students with a college ID. A $2-off coupon, valid through June, is available at the Web site, www.collphyphil.org/muttcopn.htm.

What the Mutter Museum is to anatomy, the Wagner Institute is to other natural sciences. With century-old specimens like the Chinese walking fish, birds, mammals and a small primate called an aye-aye, the Institute has more than 100,000 artifacts preserved and identified in their original condition. Unfortunately, due to roof renovations, the display cases that house the most interesting stuff are currently unavailable. Renovations should be completed in May. With free admission, the rest of the exhibit is still worth a look. The museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Next time you have a free afternoon, check out one of these exhibits.

Rory Sweeney can be reached at rsweeney@temple.edu

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