For lovers of literature, Philly’s museums are a treasure trove. Here are some highlights:
Rosenbach: This collection is the legacy of the Rosenbach brothers, rare book dealers and collectors who helped create (among others) The Folger Shakespeare Library and The Widener Library at Harvard University. The museum makes the collection accessible through amazing hands-on history programs, exhibitions and other public lectures and events. Their collection is huge, with an emphasis on British and American literature and history. Highlights include works by James Joyce, Bram Stoker, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Marianne Moore (including a re-creation of her Greenwich Village living room), Herman Melville (including his bookcase), and many, many, many others.Hands-on History at The Rosenbach Library (Frankenstein, The Founding Fathers, and much more) Sendek Mural: The only known existing mural by artist Maurice Sendak lives at the South Philadelphia branch of The Free Library. Where the Wild Things Are: Philly’s Sendak MuralPoe House: Poe spent 6 of his most productive years living in Philadelphia. You can learn about his legacy (and search for the tell-tale heart) at this house, run by the National Park Service. Edgar Allan Poe’s Philadelphia
Free Library: Among the many highlights of the collection housed in the rare book department are extensive collections of Dickens (including his pet raven, who may have inspired Poe’s famous poem), Poe and Beatrix Potter. Kathy’s Favorite “Secret” Philadelphia Museum – The Rare Book Department At The Free Library They also have a collection of original paintings by children’s book illustrator N.C. Wyeth. One or two are always on display in the children’s department.
Whitman House: Across the river in Camden, New Jersey is the only house actually owned by Whitman and the place where he died. Visitors to the house (now a museum) can follow in Bram Stoker’s footsteps… although you can’t actually meet the poet like Bram did, you can see his personal belongings, including the bed in which he died (Walt Whitman’s Camden)You can also visit his grave, in near-by Harleigh Cemetery.
Charles Dickens visited Philadelphia twice. He documented his first visit in 1842 with a chapter in “American Notes for General Circulation.” He visited several sites around the city and documented his (mostly unfavorable) reactions. Visitors today can retrace his footsteps and judge for themselves (Philadelphia: Charles Dickens Was NOT a Fan)
Philadelphia is home to several copies of Audubon’s Birds of America, but only one is permanently on view. Located on the first floor of the Van Pelt Library on The University of Pennsylvania campus, you can view it whenever the library is open. Only 1 page is visible at a time; they flip the page the second Wednesday of every month. It’s huge! Known as a “double elephant folio” due to the enormous size of the paper, it’s one of 19th century America’s greatest works of art, natural history, and bookmaking.
Another location to check out is the Philadelphia Horticultural Society’s McLean Library, located at 100 N 20th. Primarily a resource for members, they usually have a small (free) exhibit by the front doors on the first floor highlighting works from their collection, such as this 2017 display of the 2 oldest books in the collection, both 16th century herbals.