What a first impression you’ll get! The Please Touch Museum’s new home is Memorial Hall right in Fairmount Park. Created for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, Memorial Hall’s imposingly grand architecture and larger than life equine statues will definitely set the tone for the new Please Touch experience. Remember here, bigger is definitely better. Parents will breath a sigh of relief walking into this interactive museum. Gone are the cramped exhibits and tiny spaces. Memorial Hall is indeed a mammoth site.
Even grown-ups will feel dwarfed by the size of the sweeping ceilings. Thankfully the museum has kept the neo-classical architecture of the Hall and has incorporated it into the look of the exhibits. There are no garish primary colors to this kid’s playground. Instead warm peaches, moss greens and pastel city murals create a calming atmosphere amidst the screaming and yelling of the young visitors. The grand rotunda is the centerpiece of the museum with an awe-inspiring indoor representation of the Statue of Liberty’s hand and torch-completely made out of reclaimed toys by Philly’s own, Leo Sewell! Standing 40-feet high, the sculpture is another nod to the Centennial Exhibition, which originally displayed the arm portion of the famed statue. Don’t forget to get your picture taken here!
You’ll notice a lot of green themes around the museum, with installations that honor old toys and recycled art around every turn. Adults will get to revisit some of their favorite toys in the ever present toy displays (conveniently at adult eye level). The museum also highlights 19th century Philadelphia (the era of the exhibition). A large miniature railroad displays at Centennial Exploration shows just how the neighborhood looked over a century ago. If your kids are really into history, there’s a whole robotic village that replicates how Philly residents lived years ago. Look for this to be a hit come winter as the animatronic colonial village stands posed to give the old Wanamaker’s displays a run for their holiday money.
City Capers brings back some of the Please Touch’s most beloved exhibits in revamped and expanded fashion. Have no fear the supermarket is here! And little shoppers can roll their shopping carts through a super-sized market complete with fruit stands, bread bins, a meat department and isles of canned and boxed fare. Of course it’s all pretend, so it’s okay to shop ‘til you drop. There’s also an interactive shoe store (where you can try on everything from ballet slippers to snowshoes) and conveniently placed brand marketing thanks to a make pretend McDonald’s and CHOP exam room.
You’re the pilot, engineer and astronaut at Flight Fantasy, where you can jump into life-sized physic experiments. The adjacent Roadside Garage lets little mechanics take over, there’s even a shiny new car to polish up. And for those who are more into public transportation, SEPTA makes a stop and even at the Please Touch there’s road construction tying things up-unless you can take control and direct traffic.
The River Adventures exhibit embraces the simple rule that if you give kids a pool of water they can amuse themselves indefinitely. But the Please Touch takes the idea one step further, with an enormous rubber ducky river, rainbows and bubbles, making this exhibit alone worth the price of admission.
One of the coolest features of the new museum is its layout. Everything seems just a stroll away, there are no stairs to speak of and the lower and upper floors have a way of connecting thanks to spacious ramps and glass railings, not to mention a huge faux tree that connects the natural world of the river exhibit to the surreal experience of the Wonderland exhibit. As you’ve probably guessed, we are talking Alice in Wonderland and the Please Touch has brought this children’s tale to life, with mazes and optical tricks that will leave you feeling like the you’ve just partied with the Jefferson Airplane.
And finally, no visit would be complete without a spin on the grand carousel. This is one special merry-go-round. Housed in its own atrium-like room, the carousel was originally part of Woodside Park. The Dentzel Carousel is now exactly 100 years old and out from a long storage. Ride on cats, birds or plain old horses, the only bummer is that to keep kids from riding continually, the museum has imposed a $3 ticket price on rides.
The Please Touch Museum at Memorial Hall
4231 Avenue of the Republic
Philadelphia, PA 19131
Parking is $5 per car in the museum’s lot.
Admission is $15 for children and adults. Babies under 1 year are free.