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Beyond the Liberty Bell: Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

As the third winter storm in three weeks batters the northeastern United States, many of us have a serious case of spring fever. Others, like moi, can’t shake their Seasonal Affective Disorder. I tried an intervention last week by going to the Philadelphia Flower Show, but I have another option. I could revisit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

This message from the creator of Philadelphia’s Magic Garden greets visitors.

You know how sometimes when you live somewhere, you might have never visited places in your home town that most tourists go. I’m sure there are a good number of New Yorkers who have never made it to the top of the Empire State Building nor to the Statue of Liberty.

Here in my home town, the City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection), I meet Philadelphians who are at least slightly embarrassed that they have never visited Independence Hall nor the Liberty Bell.

It took a visit from my favorite Canadian, four pound, long haired chihuahua travel blogger, Montecristo, (and his people) to get me to one Philadelphia attraction. They had a few days in Philly by themselves and raved about Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, somewhere I had heard about, but never visited. In fact, it was one of their favorite places and Montecristo wrote a blog post about it from his perspective—8 inches off the ground.

I finally walked myself the 1.2 miles from our Center City apartment on Rittenhouse Square to 1020 South Street to visit this half block long public art installation by mosaic artist, Isaiah Zagar.

Philadelphia's Magic GardensEven before arriving at the Magic Gardens, you will come across other walls in the neighborhood decorated with Isaiah Zagar’s signature mosaic murals. There are thirty within a few blocks of the Magic Gardens itself.

Don’t arrive for your visit to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens looking for plants and flowers. Instead, you’ll find the somewhat manic representation of the inner world of the artist expressed in tiles, mirror shards, words, “folk art statues, bicycle wheels, and colorful glass bottles” that completely cover an inside area and an adjacent 3,000 square foot multi-level outdoor venue.

It is impossible to view Philadelphia’s Magic Garden’s without feeling that you have been granted entry into a very personal space. If you want to understand more about what you’ve seen, the artist’s son, Jeremiah, produced an award winning 2008 documentary, In a Dream, sharing the deeply personal mental health issues that both afflicted and inspired the artist. You can watch the documentary trailer here:

In 1968 Mr. Zagar and his wife, Julia, moved to a not yet gentrified part of South Street at the edge of Center City Philadelphia after a stint in the Peace Corps in Peru. They opened a gallery and Zagar worked on his mosaic craft. In 1994, he started tiling abandoned lots adjacent to their home that grew into the Magic Gardens.

Philadelphia's Magic GardensThe current admission fee to visit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is $10.00, reduced to $8.00 for students and seniors. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is entered via a building at 1020 South Street.

Before your visit, you can check up to date pricing, opening hours and tour times at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens website. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is managed by a non-profit created to preserve and protect this massive work.

I spent about half an hour at the Magic Gardens. Other visitors stay for hours. Photos are permitted and according to Montecristo, it is very dog friendly, but you should probably check to make sure this is still true before you show up with Fido.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is about a 20 minute walk (a mile) from Independence Hall.

Before or after your visit to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is the perfect time to visit Philly’s famous South Street which is replete with eclectic stores and all types of places to eat and drink. Take time to rest your museum feet and people watch.

Do you think you would enjoy a visit to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens? Is there a place in or close to your home town that you keep meaning to visit?

Suzanne Fluhr, Travel Editor

Suzanne Fluhr, Midlife Boulevard's travel editor, is a recovering Philadelphia lawyer, empty nester, wanderer, dog person and Zentangle® enthusiast. She also writes about Baby Boomer travels for the body and mind on her personal blog, <a href="http://www.boomeresque.com">Boomeresque</a>. Instagram: Boomeresque2

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