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* CELEBRATING OUR 41th YEAR! * www,junto.blogspot.com * Richard Carreño, Editor * PhiladelphiaJunto@ymail.com *

Monday, 5 April 2010

Philadelphia Museum of Art...

...In Fairmount Park 

Right, Fran and Norberto
Photos Writers Clearinghouse/Richard Carreno
By Richard Carreno
Junto Staff Writer Bio
Most Philadelphians know the Philadelphia Museum of Art as that majestic pile at the top of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Fewer know the PMA as that equally majestic architectural jewel at the top of Mt. Pleasant Avenue in Fairmount Park.

That's where, last week, I visited the museum -- well, a part of it, at least.

The bit I toured is Mount Pleasant, an 18th-century country estate that dominates a hillside overlooking the Schuylkill River, off Kelly Drive.

Mount Pleasant is also one of four PMA-adminstered satellite branches, including Cedar Grove, a farmhouse, also in Fairmount Park; the Rodin Museum, on the Parkway; and the lesser-known Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philly, the nation's oldest tuition-free art school. Just flash your PMA membership card for free admission.

I've visited the Rodin on many occasions, of course. I've been to the Flesicher (more an arts studio than a museum) several times. But, although I've known about the Fairmount Park houses, well forever, I've never actually visited them.

This is partly attributable to the fact that Cedar Grove, another 18th-century manse (formerly located in Frankford), and Mount Pleasant are, like many park locations, hard to get to without private transportation, ie a car, bike, even roller skates. Public transportation? Hey, this is Philly. Forget about it.

I decided to check in with Mount Pleasant first because of my interest in its dominant Georgian design, the fruits of work by its builder, Thomas Nevell, an apprentice of Edmund Woolley, the master builder of Independence Hall.

When I got there, I was ushered into the two-1/2 story-high stucco-covered brick house by Norberto Hernandez, the place's top guard. ('How are union wage discussions going?' I asked him. 'We're making progress,' Hernandez allowed).

A little later, Hernandez hooked me up with Fran Miller, the house's guide for the day. Miller was just saying adios to a young girl, maybe about eight years old, and her parents who, from what I could tell, were fixated by Miller's spiel about Capt. John Macpherson, who commissioned Nevell to build the house, from 1762 to 1765, in the first place.

The story goes, according to Miller, that Macpherson's first wife arranged to have the captain declared mentally unstable. She also arranged to have him locked up -- throwing away the key -- in an adjoining dependency. That one time 'gaol' -- as well as a kitchen building and stables -- are still there, as well.

Miller told us that, after a while, Macpherson escaped, surreptitiously entered the house, and confronted his wife with pistol in the second-floor bedroom where we were all standing.

'OK,' I said. 'This is where he killed her. Right?'

The eight-year-old gasped.

'No,' said Miller. 'The gun wasn't loaded. He was trying to frighten her.'

'You know?' Miller told me later, when the eight-year-old and her parents had departed. 'John Adams, in 1775, said that Mount Pleasant was "the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania."'

Mount Pleasant is open from 10 AM to 5 PM Tuesday to Sunday

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