Friday, June 25, 2010


by Nell Pratt

Philadelphia don't get no respect.

Seriously. I know it's got some nasty slums, and the city almost went bankrupt back in the 1980's, but it's still the place where this country was born, when all those patriots back in 1776 locked themselves in a room, nailed the windows shut, and hammered out the Declaration of Independence. It's got some terrific history, and even the restaurants are better than they used to be.

I'm Nell Pratt, fundraiser the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, so it's my business to keep history alive and to help sell it to the public. The Society has survived for over a hundred years (no, I haven't been working here quite that long), so we must be doing something right.

I love the city, but I don't live there–I live in the leafy green suburb of Bryn Mawr, close to the regional rail line so it's easy to commute. I spend enough of my time in the city–like a lot of ten-hour days–and I need a place to retreat to and to recharge my batteries. That's my little (former) carriage house. It's big enough for me because I don't share it with anyone (although there's this FBI agent who's shown some interest lately...and I kind of wish he'd investigate me!)

Just like Philadelphia, fundraisers aren't exactly popular, mainly because we ask for money. But I love the place I work and I want to keep it going for another hundred years. I love being able to roam through the historical collections–I can spend my lunch hour looking at letters from George Washington or leafing through William Penn's Bible (that's the one they use to swear in Pennsylvania governors). And I want to give other people the chance to enjoy the collections as much as I do, which means we have to find the money to keep the lights and the heat on, and the doors open.

There's a lot of good stuff in Philadelphia. One of my absolute favorites is a real Philadelphia treasure: the Reading Terminal Market. The Reading Terminal used to be the main station for the Reading Railroad (remember that from Monopoly?). The trains are long gone; in fact, the old "train shed" is now the main hall of the Philadelphia Convention Center. But the market underneath has been there from the beginning and is still going strong. It even survived the construction of the convention center over its head.

But enough about history. Let's talk about the food. Did I mention I work within walking distance from the Market? I try not to go too often, because I always come back with much more than I planned. Where to start? Fresh vegetables. Meats, from a lot of Amish butchers (how many kinds of sausages do you think there are?). Incredible fish you usually see only on the Food Network. Candy (ah, yes, candy!). Bakeries. Spices. It's a treat just to stand in the middle and inhale all the wonderful smells.

And don't forget Bassett's ice cream–it's incredible. It should be: since they were established in 1861, they've had almost 150 years to get it right.

If you visit, say hi to Philbert. He's kind of the mascot for the Market, and he sits right in front of the central food court. Maybe he's trying to send a message about not overeating. But since his back is turned to the tables, maybe he's giving you permission to (pardon the pun) pig out.

So Philadelphia has something for everyone–history and food are just the beginning. You're going to be hearing more from me about the city, and I guess about those dead bodies that I keep running into.


  1. Hi Nell,

    Now I really want to visit Philadelphia and the Reading Terminal Market. When is the best time to visit Philly?

  2. Sounds like the perfect weekend getaway spot!

  3. Dru, summer can be a bit steamy (unless you want to recreate the 4th of July), but spring and fall are nice. And it's a very "walkable" city (flat!),with lots of intriguing hidden corners.

  4. I can't wait to visit Philadelphia with you. I think it's going to be a blast.

  5. Nell, you are an excellent ambassador for Philly. I have been there and it's a wonderful town. Can't wait to read your book.

    Charlotte Adams asked me to mention that you have a great job!


  6. Nell - I was lucky enough to read your first adventure early and it's *wonderful* - I thoroughly enjoyed it! (Although I'm sure it gave you some scares!) My husband and I have always wanted to visit Philly (despite the fact that your hockey team gave ours a run for our money) because of the history. Your descriptions make it even more appealing. Thanks!


  7. Hey Nell--

    Who said museums were stuffy? Loved reading about what really happens behind the scenes...

    Next time, give me the scoop, okay? (And not just of BAssett's!)

    xoox Charlotte McNally

  8. Nell - I love Philadelphia. Have you been to the Rodin exhibit? And don't get me started about the Liberty Bell and the historic buildings. Fun. Can't wait to go back. Perhaps reading about your adventures will make me feel as though I am back.

  9. Hi Nell,

    If I was ever allowed to leave Scumble River, Philadelphia sounds like a great place to visit.


  10. Nice to meet you Nell. I haven't been to Philly in years.
    You make me want to pack my bags and leave tonight.
    Great blog.

  11. Well, hello, Nell. :) Very nice to meet you. Thanks for the quick tour of Philly. Museums rock. They're gateways to the past, prompts for time travel in your imagination. Here's hoping that nice FBI agent decides that, in the interest of public safety, he should pat you down real soon.

  12. Nell, you are so right! I used to work in south Philly (Mt. Sinai Hospital) and I love the city! Lunch time was always an adventure and always included a trip to South Street. Some great Italian food, maybe a water ice and a quick look at some funky little boutiques.

  13. I've always wanted to see Philly, and now I can "see" it through your eyes, Nell. (But I still want to make it there.)

  14. Hi, Nell. My husband and I are planning our trip to PA for October, so your blog today is perfect timing. Any other places we should make sure not to miss?
    Looking forward to reading about your adventures.

  15. Allison, if you're out in the country with a car, check out the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford, near where Andrew Wyeth lived. It's in a beautiful area and has a nice collection of American paintings (and a pleasant place to eat lunch), and I (Nell, that is) visit as often as possible.

    In the city you've got museums for every taste. If you're into weird, there's the Mutter Museum. There's also a small but fun Firemen's Museum. City Hall is an amazing building. Of course the Art Museum is outstanding. Stop me! You could spend weeks there!

  16. I've never been to Philadelphia and after reading this, I need to change that. Can't wait to read all about Nell's adventures.

  17. Reading Terminal is fantastic! I've been with my sister who lives in Old City and just fell in love with the place. Quite a dynamic city you have there!

    Southern City Mysteries

  18. Thanks, Nell and Sheila! I'll put all those places on the itinerary.

  19. Nell - If I come visit, will you take me to Bassett's? If you mosey down to Dalliance, I promise to take you down to San Antonio to visit the Alamo. :)

  20. Hi Nell, I've been to Phiadelphia twice, but missed that market. It sounds great. There's always next time. I've seen Bassett's ice cream in Chicago, but didn't realize it was special stuff. Next time I'm definitely going to try it.

  21. Fundraiser? Nell, are you sure Philly didn't hire you to promote the city?

    ~ Krista

  22. Allison, do you like gardens? Bartram's Garden is charming. The man who started the garden knew Benjamin Franklin.

  23. Nell, I
    I've been to Philly a few times for the Philadelphia Writers Conference. You should stop over there, but you'll have to wait unitl the second week in June 2011. I love City Travern to eat, then there's the Bors (sp) so you see why I have never made it to the Market.

    Hope all goes well with Mr. FBI. I'll be reading to see how things go.

    Pat Marinelli

  24. Nell, I've only been to Philadelphia once, but fell in love with it instantly. I'd love to go back, in spite of the fact that it was in Philly that I ended up with the worst case of food poisoning I've ever had. But that was -- oh, dear -- twenty-some years ago. I'm sure the offending restaurant isn't there any longer :)