Mummers, molars and more

Philadelphia: If it's interesting or unusual, southeastern Pennsylvania has probably got a museum for it.

Short Hop: Pennsylvania

August 29, 1999|By Terry Conway | Terry Conway,Special to the Sun

Cheesesteaks. The Liberty Bell. Soft pretzels. A Ben Franklin look-alike. Snow cones. Phillies baseball.

These are a few of Philadelphia's summertime favorites. Here's a sampling of other hidden treasures in the area.

* The Insectarium: Why do bees dance? What makes a firefly light up?

Since January 1995, Steve Kanya has tackled those queries from busloads of school children, Scouts and thousands of teachers and visitors at the Insectarium. Inside, the two-story museum is crawling with 100,000 live roaches in a model kitchen and bathroom. There's a tank crammed with glow-in-the dark scorpions. A working beehive and termite colony are perched across the room. The 5,000-square-foot museum displays mounted insects of all shapes and sizes, including Madagascar hissing roaches, red leg tarantulas, Indian walking sticks, thorny devils and velvet ants. Visitors are entertained with interactive games, quiz boards, puzzles and a crawl-through spider web created from bungee cord.

Location: 8046 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission: $4. Call 215-338-3000.

* Dental Museum: It's the tooth fairy's fortress. Actually, it's Temple University's Dental Museum. Here visitors can gawk at dentist Edgar "Painless" Parker's collection of bicuspids and molars yanked from patients' mouths during a 60-year career in the first half of the 19th century.

Brimming from an old, wooden bucket are thousands of teeth he extracted, as well as some that the wacky dentist strung into a necklace. There's an 1850s-model dentist chair outfitted with head and foot rests. Fastened to another one is a coal foot warmer. And then there's a batch of ivory-handled, 18th-century "extraction keys" that pried out stubborn teeth.

A display case is crammed with boar- and badger-bristle toothbrushes, ivory tongue scrapes and vintage silk dental floss as well as early X-ray machines and a Civil War-era dental kit. Hanging forlornly on a wall is a Medieval-era painting of St. Apollonia -- patron saint of the dental profession. The Christian martyr had her teeth bashed out.

Location: Broad Street and Allegheny Avenue, Philadelphia. Open: Monday through Friday; call ahead for hours, 215-707-2816.

* Academy of Natural Sciences: Want to learn how a butterfly morphs through the four stages of its life? How about discovering how bats "see" with sound? Or what provoked the changes 65 million years ago to kill off dinosaurs and three-quarters of the organisms on our planet?

The answer to those and a slew of other probing queries can be found at the delightful, interactive exhibit known as Planet Golf at the Academy of Natural Sciences. For a modest "greens fee" of $3, visitors can putt their way around a beguiling, indoor, 18-hole miniature golf course through Sept. 12.

The aim is not to lower your score, but spur one's curiosity in nature, recycling and water pollution. The "front nine" demonstrates the workings of nature. The "back nine" illustrates human interaction in the biosphere. On the 12th hole, for instance, your ball represents a spawning of a Chinook salmon. Players must putt around man-made objects such as a hydroelectric dam, a log jam caused by the forest industry or the swift paw of a hungry bear.

Designed by the academy's exhibit director, J. Willard Whitson, Planet Golf is a traveling exhibit that will visit museums around the country.

Location: 19th Street and the Parkway, Philadelphia. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends and holidays. Admission: "Greens fee" of $3, plus academy admission of $8.50 (ages 3 to 12, $7.50; under 3 free). Call 215-299-1000.

* Mummers Museum: It all began as a singing mob with quaint costumes and soot-smudged faces in Colonial Philadelphia. It evolved into a cavorting neighborhood celebration in the mid-19th century and by 1901 the extravaganza had blossomed into a full day of revelry parading down Broad Street.

A few shakes off the annual parade route, the history and frolicking comes alive at the Mummers Museum at Second and Washington streets. On the ground level, visitors view the prize-winning costumes displayed in the "Winner's Circle." Proceeding into the "Broad Street Room," striking black-and-white and color photos of parades panel the walls; the floor is an asphalt street. Further along, display cases hold the intricate feathered costumes and colorful badges of the four Mummer's divisions. Nearby, score cards, club submissions and documents enlighten visitors as to how the winners are chosen.

By tapping a button at the music exhibit, visitors hear the recording of each major player -- a banjo, bass, accordion, saxophone drum and glockenspiel -- solo or in exuberant combination. Next door, a slide presentation depicts the legendary "Mummers Strut," where visitors can practice step-by-step to the sounds of "Golden Slippers."

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