Touring the Please Touch Museum
OLD CITY - March 6, 2012 (WPVI) -- You know that the declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were born in Philadelphia, but not all local history was written in Old City.
When it came time to celebrate the nation's 100th birthday, there was a summer-long party in West Philadelphia that amazed the world.
The Centennial Fair in 1876 was the first major world's fair held in North America. It turned what is now a tranquil stretch of Fairmount Park west into a bustling "city" with 200 buildings.
Displays dazzled visitors, and gave their world a first glance of things we take for granted.
The Statue of Liberty was still a decade from completion but its arm and torch graced the fairgrounds.
The dime people paid to visit it funded the brick structure now serving as its base in New York Harbor.
Canadian Alexander Graham Bell gave the U.S. its first look at his telephone.
Major league baseballs first-ever game was played as part of the fair. Philadelphia's team lost and folded before the end of the season.
Philly pharmacist Charles Hires unveiled his root beer.
The world got its first look at the typewriter that would revolutionize writing for a century. Memorial Hall was there as the first art gallery at a world's fairs anywhere. Today, its home to the innovative Please Touch Museum, a haven for preschoolers. But while the building has been repurposed, it's also been lovingly restored, including original statues and many more features.
The basement includes a model of the 1876 fairgrounds as they might have looked on that 4th of July, complete with tents where troops from West Point encamped.
There were hotels and restaurants, a railroad line, and massive exhibition halls. You really need to see the model to get an idea how huge the fair was. While visitors are welcome to look at the model any time the museum is open, there are also tours for history buffs every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm.
Adults pay regular admission and meet the guide in the Grand Hall, right inside the main entrance. Groups may also book a custom tour by reservat6ion. For more information, phone the museum at 215-581-3181. or go online, Please Touch Museum .
The Free Library of Philadelphia is the official custodian of 1876 Centennial Fair archives, and its website offers a virtual; tour of the fair. See that at Free Library.
philadelphia, pennsylvania, local/state
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