About a month ago I was working a temporary merchandising job with a company whose full-time employees were all from either California or Texas. These full-timers travel the country and re-set retail stores, either for remodelings or grand openings. One of the "perks" of a gig like that is that you can travel to cities in the United States you may never see again. When they traveled to Philadelphia guess what all these people wanted to see?
"The Rocky Steps"... as they called them.
Not Independence Hall...not The Liberty Bell... but the place where Rocky Balboa finished his morning training run, the steps of The Philadelphia Museum of Art.
I get it. It is iconic.
"Oh yeah, The Art Museum," I replied. "Fairmount is a cool neighborhood."
They had no idea there was a art museum in Philadelphia. Or that it was located in an actual neighborhood. Maybe they just thought there was a random set of steps located in the middle of the city and that the occasional down-on-their-luck boxer would run up them.
They weren't exactly "city folk", if you catch my drift.
"Is there a lot more to do down there in that neighborhood?" They asked.
"Yes," I said simply and slowly so they would understand.
The plain truth is that Fairmount is a part of the city that is truly considered a tourist destination. Aside from all the beautiful works of art held in the Art Museum, the neighborhood also holds many of Philadelphia's most visited attractions.
Just behind the Art Museum, along the banks of the Schuyllkill River is Boat House Row. This stretch of rowing club houses is a trademark image of Philadelphia and provides a scenic entrance to Fairmount Park, a sprawling green landscape that offers a spectacular view of the Philadelphia.
Traveling down the Rocky Steps and heading east is the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Parkway is lined with classic sculptures and world renowned museums such as The Franklin Institute and The Academy of Natural Sciences.
The neighborhood continues its offering of places to see as you travel up a couple of blocks to Fairmount Avenue. An array of trendy bars and restaurants line the street and provides a contrast to the huge, beheamonth like structure that dominates the neighborhood; Eastern State Penitentary
The Penitentiary, which opened in 1829, once housed such notable "guest" as Scarface Al Capone and legendary bank robber Willie Sutton. Since it's closing in 1971 Eastern State has become a museum and a frequently visited tourist attraction within the Fairmount neighborhood.
When the penitentiary first opened it was hailed as an outstanding model of prison reform. However, as time passed the reputation of Eastern State Penitentiary and it's methods of prisoner rehabilitation came under severe criticism. One famous critic, author Charles Dickens, traveled to Philadelphia from London in 1842 and toured the penitentiary. Dickens described the conditions as "ghastly" and determined that those responsible for running the prison, "Do not know what it is that they are doing."
Typical tourist...he'd probably criticize the Rocky Steps too.