High on a hill in Bryn Athyn, a vision of old Europe towers over the surrounding greenery. Built as a private residence between 1928 and 1939, the 20th-century castle was constructed in the medieval style, using symbolism that reflects the faith of the community's earliest inhabitants. The building now serves as a museum that houses religious art and relics dating from Babylonian times up to the present. The museum's permanent and temporary exhibits range from a medieval collection of stained glass that spans the years 1100–1300 to an Egyptian collection that includes an ornate granite libation bowl, which Egyptian priests are said to have used to dump Gatorade on their football coach.
Designated as a national historic landmark in 1985, Fonthill Castle connects visitors to artifact collector, archeologist, and architectural visionary Henry Mercer, who built the home nearly 100 years ago. During one-hour castle tours, insightful guides weave groups through the completely concrete estate, stopping to explore 18 of the mansion's 44 history-packed rooms along the way. A fusion of Gothic and Byzantine architectural styles, the castle's compilation of mysterious and shadowy nooks accompanies more than 200 uniquely shaped windows, original furnishings, and 18 different fireplaces, where Mercer's guests would warm up and ward off Hessian bands of headless snowmen. Tour-takers traverse the palace's corridors, ambling past Mercer's handcrafted tiles that provide century-old eye candy, elaborately lining interior walls, floors, and ceilings. Outside, the castle is surrounded by equally stunning sights, including rolling woodlands, open fields, and a well maintained mashed-potato moat.
When Samuel Vaughan Merrick and William H. Keating brought The Franklin Institute to life in 1824, it was to honor the life and achievements of Renaissance man Benjamin Franklin. In the decades since, the Institute has hosted further forward thinkers such as Nikola Tesla, who demonstrated wireless telegraphy in 1893, and helped advance science and technology, hosting the first public demo of an all-electronic TV system in 1934.
The National Museum of American Jewish History's core exhibition traces more than 350 years of American Jewish history, documenting their triumphs and struggles since first settling in 1654. Spread across 25,000 square feet on five floors, the exhibition's historical objects and lifelike environments cover subjects such as the late 19th-century Jewish immigration and the involvement of American Jews in the Civil Rights Movement. As the exhibition moves into the present day, visitors can share their own stories and opinions in two of the museum's interactive stations: It's Your Story and the Contemporary Issues Forum. After sharing their own journeys, guests can explore the Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame, where multimedia displays and original artifacts highlight the lives of prominent Jewish Americans, including Irving Berlin and Estée Lauder.
Cups of Old City Coffee, baked goods from LeBus, and vegetarian and dairy cuisine from Di Bruno Bros. reenergize museum-goers at the Pomegranates Café; kosher fare is also available. Additional museum programming includes educational opportunities for adults and kids, as well as live events such as lectures, discussions, and concerts.
It's more than a collection of exhibits, galleries, and glass works—though it's all of those things, too. Above and beyond housing art, the National Liberty Museum aims to serve as a mirror to the unique kaleidoscope that is the United States. Visitors to the museum explore eight galleries, each organized to highlight a particular aspect of what it means to be American. Liberty Hall, for instance, houses a selection of White House fine china alongside medals awarded to members of the armed services, while Heroes Hall showcases glass sculptor Dale Chihuly's massive Flame of Liberty installation in celebration of brave individuals.
Regardless of how visitors tackle the museum—although they should never tackle it literally, due to the high volume of glass—they'll likely find themselves intrigued by the thought-provoking collection. When Irvin J. Borowsky founded the museum in 1995, he did so with just this intent, seeking to inspire others to pursue more peaceful lives. But Borowsky may never have envisioned the scale it would one day reach: 78 exhibits, 179 works of contemporary art, and thousands of stories vividly told.
Since its founding in 1976, the African American Museum in Philadelphia has worked to preserve and honor African Americans' heritage through exhibitions, collections, and cultural programs. Four galleries contain exhibits delving into themes including the African diaspora, African American life in Philadelphia, and contemporary African American narratives. The core exhibition, Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia 1776–1876, showcases a timeline detailing how African Americans lived in that era, and brings key historical figures to life through 10 life-size video projections. Visitors can interact with each of the projections, listening to their stories and requesting further topics of discussion, such as the Internet's role in their lives. Another gallery focuses on African American life post-emancipation leading up to the modern day. In addition to engaging exhibitions, the museum also boasts an extensive collection of historical artifacts, including Negro league baseball memorabilia, records, musical instruments, photographs, and the time machine that was used to retrieve each item.