Philly's Please Touch Museum gets a new building and new exhibits

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— Courtesy Helen I. Hwang
Ella Adams, 3, at the wheel. Behind her on the right is the Please Touch Garage, where kids can take a look under the hood

Dedicated to children 7 and younger, the expanded Please Touch Museum opens this Saturday (Oct. 18). Its new home in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park is Memorial Hall, a Beaux Arts gem opened in 1876 to host a World’s Fair.

Compared with its former digs, the museum now has three times more exhibition space (plus expanded parking outside). A magical Alice in Wonderland exhibit takes visitors down the Rabbit Hole in a former in-ground swimming pool. No matter what the weather is like outside, kids can experiment with waterwheels and toy boats at an indoor water play area.

My daughter Ella and I had loads of fun at the museum’s special press preview last week. When we wandered into the Roadside Attractions exhibit, it didn’t surprise me that Ella, already a backseat driver, went straight for the kid-size hot rod with flames streaking alongside the car side panels. She must've been a racecar driver in her previous life!

A ride of a different sort capped off our visit. We took a spin on the museum’s newly restored 1924 Dentzel Carousel, with 52 hand-carved animals. It's housed in a beautiful glass-enclosed space.

This Saturday’s opening festivities begin with a brief welcome from Mayor Michael Nutter and include a performance by Fandango—a rock band that entertains kids—and costumed characters that will interact with visitors all day long.

Please Touch Museum, 215/963-0667, pleasetouchmuseum.org, open daily, $15, free for babies under the age of 1, carousel rides $3, parking $5.

—Helen I. Hwang, author of All Grown Up: Please Touch Museum and its Move to Memorial Hall (available at the museum’s kids store beginning Nov. 1).

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