State Museum, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA

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The State Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA, is probably the only place in the world where you will see an 18-foot high, two ton statue of a Quaker.

The huge metal statue of Pennsylvania founding father William Penn stands in the center of the State Museum’s Memorial Hall. The hall is the original entrance to the ‘William Penn Memorial Museum’, which is what some locals still call the State Museum. In Memorial Hall, visitors can see a full-sized photo of the original Charter from England’s King Charles II which was signed in the 1600s.1 Memorial Hall is a great place to enter the museum and it gives you a quick idea what the whole place is about - Pennsylvania and its history.

The museum sits in the heart of the state Capitol Complex on the corner of Third and North streets, directly across the street from the Capitol building. It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9am to 5 pm and on Sundays from noon to 5 pm. The museum is closed Mondays and state holidays.

The Exhibit Halls

Fine Arts

The Fine Arts Gallery changes throughout the year to showcase the variety of art in the museum’s collection, which has been growing since the 1850s. The collection now totals more than 5,000 pieces of art. In addition, the Fine Arts Gallery hosts traveling exhibits, including a display of the silverware and place settings from the battleship USS Pennsylvania.

Curiosity Corner

An interactive, hands-on place for children to explore the clothing and lifestyles of early Pennsylvanians. There are displays on early Colonial and Native American tools, as well as fun games and puzzles.

Brockerhoff Hall

A view of two contrasting styles of home life in 19th century Pennsylvania. The ‘house’ is built around a huge doorway that was once part of a real house. Visitors can peek through windows and doorwys to see interior scenes of early 19th Century and late 19th Century Victorian lifestyles.

Market, Shop and Home Exhibit

Kind of a creepy exhibit, like walking into an episode of The Twilight Zone, this area recreates an 18th Century Market Square. As you walk along the street, you can look through the shop doors and see what a tinsmith shop was like, or view the interior of a general store. It’s like everyone in town just stopped what they were doing and vanished. Chairs are half finished in the wicker shop, a hammer sits atop an anvil at the blacksmith waiting for someone to finish the job on a horseshoe.

Industry and Technology Hall

A salute to Pennsylvania’s industrial and technological heritage, this hall shows the past 200 years’ march of progress. Exhibits on canal boats, stage coaches, trains, automobiles and airplanes fill this area. Many actual examples of the technology for kids to crawl upon, including an old Conestoga Wagon.

Hall of Military History

Dedicated to Pennsylvania’s soldiers, the first thing to strike visitors is Peter Frederick Rothermel’s huge mural of the fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg during the Confederate charge into the heart of the Union lines on the final day of the battle. The gallery displays the weapons, uniforms and flags of many of the units which fought in Pennsylvania.

Paleontology/Geology Hall

View and even touch some fossils from the time when Pennsylvania was covered in lush tropical rain forests. Diaromas bring this prehistoric time back to life. In another part of the hall you can watch real, live paleontologists removing a fossilized skeletons from an ancient creekbed.

Hall of Archaeology

This gallery features a replica Delaware Indian village as it depicts the life of a Native American from birth through death. Other exhibits show artifacts from sites across the state, featuring Native American and early Colonial pieces.

Mammal Hall

Every kid’s favourite part of the State Museum and located on the top floor, the Hall of Mammals features a stunning collection of dioramas showing native animals and in their natural settings, painstakingly duplicated from actual sites all across Pennsylvania. You can see inside a beaver’s lodge and view a majestic bison standing in a snowy field under the night sky. Your kids will talk about this gallery the whole drive home.

Planetarium

The Planetarium puts on some pedestrian star shows throughout the year. But St. Valentine’s Day, they really go all out and do something special. The St. Valentine’s Day show features a live jazz band playing soulful melodies as the stars track slowly across the nightime sky. Who would have thought you could mix romance and astronomy?

For More Information

To get a current listing of hours, traveling exhibits and special events, check out the State Museum website, or call the museum at 717-787-4978.

1The original Charter is housed in the nearby State Archives, but the document is in terrible condition and never leaves its special vault.

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