Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Philadelphia Freeedom, Fraternity and Freaks.

We have found our way, baby in tow, into the breach. We're not trying anything exotic, but rather visiting relatives. Yet we are indeed hours from home. The anxiety that we had about a long road trip with a six-month-old kid turned out to be only partially justified. It's absolutely true that babies will cry. There's no getting around it. At the same time it is also the case that riding in a moving vehicle can calm an infant, as the sensation resonates with memories of prenatal life. Perhaps that explains the fact that I often slip into a deep drowsiness when I drive. Anyway, when all was said and done we only had to put up with about half an hour of sustained crying. We did (of course) spend much more time at rest stops.

Arriving safely and sanely at our destination was a small victory. The next objective was planning for a day or two of activities that might suggest vacation-like conditions. That's not particularly easy to do in the Lehigh Valley. However, this area benefits from its proximity to more interesting locales. I quickly identified Philadelphia as a worthy destination. This morning we packed Baby E., his stuffed entourage, and his accessories into the car, and made the hour and fifteen minute drive south. Our guide was adept and we arrived at our first stop with little difficulty. I had decided that I'd like to visit the Grand Lodge of the PA Freemasons, of which Benjamin Franklin was a charter member.

Not surprisingly this frat house is located only steps away from City Hall. It would present an impressive facade if it wasn't currently obstructed by sidewalk-to-sky scaffolding. The innards are a wonder to behold. There are a series of increasingly larger and more ornate meeting rooms where the 42 chapters in the region gather to look important and tweak their plots to control the world. There are waterproof altars above troughs where the spilled blood of virgins can collect at the feet of the brethren. There is also a force of half-beast, half human slaves that await their masters every order. Just kidding... but there is a cloak room that served conveniently as a place for M. to breast feed Baby E. in peace and privacy.

Our second site of interest was Eastern Penitentiary, a large and relatively ancient prison that once held notorious criminals like Willie Sutton and Al Capone. I had wanted to visit in order to collect images of the deterioration of the buildings and grounds. Compared to the prison in Moundsville, WV and the reformatory in Mansfield, OH, this facility was like a museum. Portions of it have been restored, and other areas have been utilized for a Halloween haunted-walk-through and art installations. There's a helpful audio tour with Steve Buscemi, but I didn't listen to much of it. It only took me about an hour and ten minutes to stroll the sections that are open to the public- and I would have been done a lot quicker had I not been taking photos.

To cap off the day, I finally made my pilgrimage to the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. For those of you who are unaware of this odd little museum- it's chock full of human abnormalities and wax models of victims with horrendous diseases. The collection was first put on display after Thomas Dent Mütter, retired Professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College, donated it to the CPP. Its highlights include a plaster cast of Chang and Eng Bunker (history's most famous Siamese Twins), a huge presentation of human skulls, the tallest skeleton on exhibit in America, a handful of authentic shrunken heads, and a freakishly huge distended and constipated colon. Good stuff... eat right before you go for maximized enjoyment. But don't bring your camera because you aren't allowed to use it.

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