The African American Museum of Philadelphia

Where you’ll meet a “Who’s Who” of remarkable Americans many of us know little about

Growing up in Delaware County, I heard family horror stories about the discrimination Irish Catholics faced when they landed here. And about ads that said: “No Irish need apply.”

But not until I visited the African American Museum in Philadelphia did I really understand the extraordinary discrimination blacks faced in our city. It was pervasive and relentless.

The Magnificent Masonic Temple

Inside are seven spectacular halls representing different cultures and styles – each one more dazzling than the last. The building is an architectural tour de force.

Some years ago, a Philadelphia tour guide – who saw me near the Reading Terminal Market – asked if I had ever been inside the Masonic Temple.

When I replied “No,” he said, “You don’t have to go to Europe. You can see everything you want right there.” He wasn’t far wrong.

This stunning building just north of City Hall on Broad Street is like a fantasyland. Impressive on the outside, it is absolutely mind-blowing inside.

Christ Church

With a soaring 196-foot steeple that towers over newer structures nearby, Christ Church is both a spectacular historic building … and living history at its best.

No musty old buildings or artifacts untouched by human hands here. Instead, this is a flourishing, active modern parish – where members still worship under a brass chandelier (with real candles) that has hung since 1744.

Parishioners continue to be baptized at a 15th century octagonal walnut font used by William Penn in 1644. And, says senior guide and historian Neil Ronk, “The bells we rang for the Revolution will ring for a wedding tonight.”

The Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent

Philly History Museum

When I was young, I toured the Atwater Kent museum and was fascinated by the toys, drawings of the city and Philadelphia objects on display.

But I don’t recall ever going again.

And that’s a problem for a small museum like the renamed Philadelphia Museum at the Atwater Kent. It needs repeat visitors to help stay open and thrive.

So the newly named museum, which reopened in September 2012 and has over 100,000 items in its vast collection, now will change exhibits several times a year.

The Lazaretto

Americas oldest quarantine station – “Ellis Island’s Great Grandfather” – helped protect Philadelphia residents for 94 years

In the summer and fall of 1793, panic reigned in Philadelphia, then the nation’s capital. Yellow fever was quickly spreading through the waterfront area of the new world’s busiest port, killing more than one out of ten residents. And no one knew how to stop it.

By October, as many as 100 people a day were dying. Before the four-month epidemic ended, over 4,000 people succumbed to the disease. In addition, 17,000 of the city’s 45,000 to 55,000 residents, including President George Washington, fled to safer ground.

The deadly disease, which struck many teenagers and heads of families, turned the skin yellow. Other symptoms included: bleeding from just about any orifice and “black vomit.”

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Want to see history really come alive? Just stroll over to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP).

Here you’ll find an astonishing collection of unique documents, watercolors, genealogical records, letters, diaries and more. Together, they provide a rare behind-the-scenes look at our country’s triumphs and tragedies.  What’s more, they allow once-dim historic figures to become real flesh-and-blood people.

Historic Fort Mifflin

Thanks to the popular Disney TV mini-series “Davy Crockett,” there’s probably not a child in the U.S. who hasn’t heard about the Battle of the Alamo. That 1836 siege lasted 13 days. Some 182 to 257 Texans were killed, along with 400 to 600 Mexicans, and the battle became a rallying cry for Texas independence.

Contrast that with the 6-day siege of Fort Mifflin, a wood and stone structure located nine miles from center city Philadelphia, on a muddy island in the Delaware River. What happened here may well have changed American history. But few people are aware of it.