A Rainy Day In Philly: Exploring The Free Library & Polish Home Cooking

I’ve written about the Free Library before (A Library That Houses The Best (Free) Museum In Philly That No One Knows), but there is a lot more to explore than the very cool rare book department – enough to occupy a few rainy -day hours.  Start with the free hour-long building tour that explores the architecture, history and collections of the 19th century building.  After the tour (in addition to actual books), visitors can:

*listen to records and cds

*borrow and play an instrument

*examine the world’s largest lending library of orchestral music

*view fine art prints, photographs, etc. (appointment recommended)

*explore the map collection

*view one of the many rotating exhibits (on view today: Leonard Bernstein memorabilia, photographs of the history of the Ben Franklin Parkway, epistolary novels and homemade art books)

*The museum also offers cooking classes, author talks, theater performances and concerts

We used the pouring rain as an excuse to get in the car and drive 15 minutes to the Port Richmond section of the city.  Home to a large Polish community and “The Dinner House” – where we feasted on sour rye soup, potato pancake with goulash and potato & cheese pierogi… and finished with a cheese danish from a local bakery.





Becoming A Detective… With Popsicles


“Two intriguing exhibitions; one immersive theatrical adventure in investigation; a once-in-a lifetime chance to uncover the art of crime and detection”

The Free Library and the Rosenbach have concurrent exhibits detailing the evolution of detective and crime stories running through September 1st, 2017.  Original manuscripts by Poe (Murder in the Rue Morgue – considered the first detective story – written right here in Philly!):

poe murder

and Stoker (Dracula -at the Rosenbach), plus lots of other artifacts:

Including a mention of the latest Sherlock: (love the Philly connection of this clip!)



Lemony Snickett fan? Listening to the free mobile phone experience GUMSHOE, as you walk from the Free Library to the Rosenbach (.9 miles) gives the experience of living inside a Lemony Snickett novel – with all the cleverness and confusion.  Even if you are not a Snickett fan, the experience is a fun way to explore some little known Philly history (https://libwww.freelibrary.org/programs/detectives/gumshoe).

And the popsicles? The Lil’ Pop Shop & Café (229 S. 20th St.) is right on the walk between the two libraries.  This one was honey lavender.  It was a tough choice between that and spicy Mexican chocolate or fresh blackberry or minty peach…

A Library That Houses The Best (Free) Museum In Philly That No One Knows

I’ll admit that I’m a book geek – but the Central Branch of The Free Library of Philadelphia is such a  cool place that anyone who enjoys books, history, art, or famous people will enjoy the Rare Book Department.  You can visit on your own anytime the library is open, or take a tour each day at 11:00 (which lets you get up close to important milestones in the history of books: a Book of the Dead papyrus, a page from a Gutenberg Bible, an illuminated manuscript, etc.).  Every time we bring friends or family to Philly, this is one of our stops.  The exhibits rotate, but they always have examples from their main collections:

These cuneiform tablets from Ancient Sumer are over 4,000 years old. Although most of these tablets deal with boring administrative stuff, the writing was the world’s first written language. Some of these clay tablets were enclosed in clay envelopes to safeguard the information.


Another favorite are the Medieval illuminated manuscripts. These prayer books were copied on parchment (sheep, calf or goat skin) and hand illustrated with gold leaf and lapis lazuli. This one, from the 1400’s illustrates the legend of Three Living and Three Dead.


In addition to writing children’s books, Beatrix Potter was also an illustrator:


Edgar Allen Poe, who lived in Philadelphia for 6 years, had incredibly neat handwriting:

poe 2

Charles Dickens’s handwriting was messy:

dickensAlways on display is “Grip,” the raven. Grip was a beloved pet of Dickens. The author inserted the blabbing raven as a character in his 1841 mystery novel, Barnaby Rudge. We know that Poe reviewed Barnaby Rudge and commented on the use of the talking raven, feeling the bird should have loomed larger in the plot. Literary experts surmise that the talking raven of Barnaby Rudge inspired Poe’s most famous poem, The Raven, published in 1845 (the library has a handwritten copy of the poem, although it is not always on display).

When Grip died in 1841, Dickens had the bird mounted. After Dickens death, Grip was sold at auction. The mounted raven was eventually purchased by Philadelphia’s Richard Gimbel, a collector of all things Poe. In 1971, Gimbel’s Poe collection was donated to the Free Library,  where Grip holds a place of honor in the Rare Book Department. (http://www.ushistory.org/oddities/grip)