Unconventional Doings in Philadelphia

On the whole, there are a lot of people who would rather be in Philadelphia.

Even if the city weren’t hosting this year’s Republican National Convention, political junkies would still find much of interest; politics is an integral part of the city’s history. To delegates, congressmen, politicos, lobbyists and other convention goers, a trip to Philadelphia to rally ‘round the party would not be complete without a little patriotic tourism, exploring what was the birthplace of the American Experiment.

But many of Philly’s sights are independent of Independence Day, quill pens and tri-cornered hats. The city has a vibrant nightlife, intriguing museums, and a certain cheese steak sandwich that deserves to be patented (and it probably has, so beware of pirated copies).

In keeping with the political theme that the city will be heralding July 31–August 4, here are some suggested destinations and happenings that would win anyone’s vote — and which do not require someone to blow up 500,000 red, white and blue balloons.

Magical History Tour

To take a tour of Independence National Historical Park, start by grabbing a map at the Visitors Center at 3rd and Chestnut Streets. From there you can make a leap into Colonial Era America.

Spanning about 45 acres, the park has almost two dozen buildings open to the public, including Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Pavilion, Congress Hall (where the U.S. Congress met from 1790 to 1800), the New Hall Military Museum, Carpenters’ Hall, Christ Church, City Tavern, the Second Bank of the United States (note its Portrait Gallery), Franklin Court (the site of Benjamin Franklin’s home, now a museum and post office), and a reconstruction of Graff House, where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence.

Other National Park buildings include Christ Church, the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site (his home from 1843–44), the Free Quaker Meeting House, the Mikveh Israel Cemetery, and the New Hall Military Museum. Nearby are the U.S. Mint (Ha! Proof that money doesn’t grow on trees), Betsy Ross House, and Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continually-occupied residential street in the nation.

Admission to most Park buildings is free. The Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., although hours may be extended during summer. (215) 597-8974.

Energy Policy

The man who gave us lightning rods, swim fins and Poor Richard’s Almanac is memorialized at the Franklin Institute Science Museum, a celebration of invention and scientific curiosity. Permanent exhibits trace Benjamin Franklin’s work and studies, while interactive showcases provide electrifying thrills for young and old alike. The Museum features the Tuttleman IMAX Theater, the Fels Planetarium, and a new 3D Theater which is showing The Illuminated Brain, in which audiences learn how the brain functions — like its uncanny ability to make us dodge those lifelike 3D images jumping off the screen. The SkyBike is a two-wheel contraption that will allow those who are willing to ride 28 feet above the Atrium floor while balanced on a one-inch cable. At 20th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (215) 448-1200.

Environmental Causes

Komar & Melamid’s Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project does more than raise questions about the nature and purpose of art; the art provocateurs have given new livelihood to elephants in Thailand who were out of work because of a dying logging industry. Rather than be forced to wander city streets begging for food, the elephants were handed brushes and so embarked on a lucrative art career. 50 paintings, which put the “abstract” into Abstract Expressionism, are featured in a showing at the Goldie Paley Gallery at the Moore College of Art and Design. Through August 7. 20th Street & The Parkway. (215) 569-4515. Mon. through Fri. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Health Care

Conventional wisdom might say otherwise, but a Democratic president will be in Philadelphia during the convention — or at least a small bit of one. A “secret tumor” removed from Grover Cleveland resides in a small jar in the Philadelphia College of Physicians’ Mütter Museum of medical oddities. John Wilkes Booth’s thorax is there, too, a bit of revenge perhaps against one who shot the Republican Party’s greatest president.

There are skeletons, slices of brains, objects swallowed and retrieved through surgery, a lady turned into soap, and others unprintable here. Congressmen currently debating the state of Medicare, HMOs and medical insurance may do well to see some of the post-mortem evidence of less-than-adequate medical care, but if you have a weak stomach, send an aide instead. 19 South 22nd Street, between Chestnut and Market; (215) 563-3737, extension 242. Mon–Sat. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sun. 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Support For the Arts

Bob and Barbara’s Lounge at 1509 South Street is home base for Nate Wiley and the Crowd Pleasers, the house band for more than 20 years. You can catch their sets Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, but if you’re looking for a little less conservative atmosphere, stop by on “Drag Thursdays” when Men are Men, and Women are . . . well, Men. (215) 545-4511.

Other nightspots of note include Zanzibar Blue, Broad and Walnut Streets, which offers a jazz brunch each Sunday morning, (215) 732-5200; Warmdaddy’s, 4-6 South Front and Market Streets, (215) 627-8400; and Ortlieb’s Jazz House, 847 North Third Street, (215) 922-1035.

Concerts this week at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts run the gamut from jazz for kids to Willie Nelson to a retrospective of music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. (215) 596-7900.

The Media Theatre for the Performing Arts will be presenting Lerner & Loewe’s Gigi through August 13. Call (610) 566-4020 or (800) 568-7771. The Hedgerow Theatre in Media, Pa., one of the country’s oldest repertory theaters, will be presenting Agatha Christie’s Toward Zero (July 22–Aug. 9), while on Saturday afternoons the stage is given over to children’s performances set in the world of A.A. Milne, The Mystery of the 100 Acre Wood. (610) 565-4211.

Crime Issues

Politicians a) shake hands, b) kiss babies, and c) talk tough about crime. And why not — the pro-robbery lobby is admittedly pretty slim. But nonetheless there is a great fascination with crime, criminals, and their ultimate fates. So to provide a great photo op background (and perhaps to help remind one of the benefit of resisting Abscam-like temptors), visit the Eastern State Penitentiary. Opened in 1829 and backed by Quaker reformists, the prison was considered a model of prison design until its abandonment in 1971, only to turn up as a film setting for the sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys. A “pocketbook” note to prison reform advocates: When constructed, Eastern State was the most expensive building in the U.S. 2125 Fairmount Ave. (215) 236-3300. Open Wed. through Sun. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

All In the Family Values

“The Genesis of Republicanism: The Birth and Growth of the Grand Old Party, 1854–1872” is an exhibition of prints and memorabilia documenting the rise of the GOP, at the Library Company of Philadelphia. 1314 Locust Street. (215) 546-3181. Open weekdays 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Because art curators, like elephants, have long memories, the Museum of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is celebrating its collection of works purchased through grants by the National Endowment for the Arts, including pieces by Jacob Lawrence, Raymond Saunders, George Segal, Robert Motherwell, Janet Fish, and Sidney Goodman. Broad and Cherry Streets. (215) 972-7600. Mon. through Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Leveling the Playing Field

Let’s dispel an old wives’ tale, that the World Series accurately predicts the winner of the presidential election (that is, a National League team and a Democrat matching victories, or an American League team and a Republican). It’s only come out that way 13 times out of 23. BUT, in the last three elections, the presidential election went the other way (The Dodgers in 1988 didn’t assure Dukakis a job the following January, and the Blue Jays and Yankees in ’92 and ’96 didn’t help Bush and Dole). So keep that in mind as you visit Veterans Stadium to scout the competition as the Philadelphia Phillies play the Dodgers July 28–30 before skipping town on a road trip. (215) 463-1000 for general ticket information.