PHILADELPHIA — Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’s House — all that old brick and bronze is why history-lovers fall for Philadelphia.
It’s also why the City of Brotherly Love has hosted so many political conventions since that scorcher of a summer 240 years ago (“It’s hot as hell in Philadelphia!” sings Congress in the musical “1776”).
The last week in July, the Democrats will convene at the Wells Fargo Center — home of the 76ers and the Flyers — to choose a presidential nominee. Back in 2000, the Republicans met at what was then called the First Union Center (and gave us George W. Bush and Dick Cheney).
In Philly, in other words, you’re never far from American history. But here are three more reasons to visit between March 5 and 13: Flowers, Don Quixote and King Midas (or at least his dad).
Born in Boston, at home in London and Paris, shaper of his adopted town of Philadelphia — then the second-largest English-speaking city, Ben Franklin was a man of the (cobblestone) pavement. Yet among his sayings is this: “Flowers are the alphabet of angels, whereby they write on the hills and fields mysterious truths.”
In 1827, 37 years after Ben’s death, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society was founded by 53 of Philadelphia’s leading citizens. Two years later, the society held the first public flower show in America and introduced the poinsettia to the nation. (Six years after that, membership was opened to women.)
Now run by a paid staff and 3,400 volunteers, the Philadelphia Flower Show is the largest and longest-running indoor flower show in the world. Taking over the Pennsylvania Convention Center from the second to the third weekend in March, the 2016 show will celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service.
How will it do that? A reasonable question if you’re used to flower shows with booths and greenhouse installations.
What makes the Philly show a knockout (a little Rocky reference there), with more than 200,000 attendees over nine days, are its huge and elaborate thematic displays. Imagine super-sized, flower-filled parade floats that stay put and that you can explore on foot. For this year’s “Explore America” edition, the displays will be inspired by our national parks, from nearby Valley Forge to Yellowstone and Yosemite.
There will also be prize-winning specimens and arrangements; a market of plants, tools, books, décor and expertise; horticultural lectures and demos; a large-scale model train layout; a playground and a climbing wall; a Butterfly Experience; live music; and a pop-up beer garden.
Among the events planned for the show are a Cabin Fever Country Hoedown (March 5), Wedding Wednesday (March 9), a Flower Show Jamboree for young families and a Teddy Bear Tea (both March 13).
A few blocks from the convention center and the connected Reading Terminal Market — one of the country’s liveliest historic marketplaces, with local specialties to eat there, take out and take home — is South Broad Street, Philly’s Avenue of the Arts. Here, in the ornate and acoustically excellent Academy of Music, Pennsylvania Ballet will perform the comic story ballet “Don Quixote” from March 3 - 13.
This is a world-premiere production with new choreography by Spaniard Angel Corella, a former principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre who became Pennsylvania Ballet’s artistic director in 2014. The ballet, with music by Ludwig Minkus and choreography by Marius Petipa, was first performed at the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1869, three years before the Republicans met at the Academy of Music to nominate Ulysses S. Grant for a second term.
Philadelphia founder William Penn conceived his “greene countrie towne” as a grid between two rivers, the Delaware and the Schuylkill (locally pronounced “SKOO-kul”). West of Center City, across the Schuylkill, are the campuses of the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.
Just opened at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology: “The Golden Age of King Midas,” an exhibition that won’t be seen anywhere else in the U.S. In the show, on view through November, are more than 100 objects on loan from Turkish museums: bronze drinking vessels, pottery, jewelry, statuary, ivory furniture panels and the oldest known colored stone mosaic.
The museum was able to arrange the loans because its staff helped uncover many of these treasures. In 1957, a Penn Museum team led by Rodney Young began excavating a burial mound in Turkey roughly 175 feet high. In it, they found a royal tomb from the 8th century B.C., believed to be the resting place of King Midas’s father, Gordios.
Even if Midas makes you think of mufflers (the company name stands for Muffler Installation Dealers’ Associated Service), you’re sure to be fascinated by the beautiful relics, the historical background of these ancient Phrygian rulers and the mythology (“Midas touch,” “Gordion knot”) to which they are linked.
Terry Robe is a freelance writer who covers travel and the arts. Email Robe at firstname.lastname@example.org.