When Science Was the Best Show in America

On May 29, 1810, Katherine Fritsch, a sister in the Moravian Church, boarded a coach in Lititz, Pennsylvania, along with a group of her friends and began the 75-mile trek to Philadelphia. Fritsch noted in her diary the one city site she most wished to see: Peale’s Museum. On the grounds of the museum, whose two buildings sat on State House Square, with rows of trees and manicured lawns, Fritsch passed through a menagerie that included a large cage with a live eagle sitting “right majestically on his perch—above his head a placard with this petition on it: feed me daily for 100 years.”

THE MET OF ITS TIME: Charles Willson Peale painted this self-portrait to celebrate his pioneering museum. Its goal, he wrote his friend Thomas Jefferson, was to collect subjects in nature and “enlighten the minds of my countrymen.”Charles Willson Peale; The Artist in His Museum, 1822; Oil on canvas; Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Gift of Mrs. Sarah Harrison (The Joseph Harrison, Jr. Collection), 1878.1.2

From the yard, Fritsch went into the Peale Museum proper, through a door with “Whoso would learn Wisdom, let him enter here!” posted above. Fritsch walked past a turnstile that rang chimes to announce visitors. She walked up the stairs and into the Quadruped Room, which included a moose, llama, bear, bison, prong-horned antelope, hyena, and a jackal. She explored the Marine Room, overflowing with fish, amphibians, lizards, sponges, and corals. In the Long Room, glass cases were filled with hundreds

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