Go BIG or Go Home
What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

BIG Finds at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA

Franklin InstituteDinosaurs are becoming a “thing” for us. Makes sense…they’re BIG after all! Last year, we went to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC for its temporary exhibit, “The World’s Largest Dinosaurs.” This spring, the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia is presenting a similar program, “Giant Mysterious Dinosaurs,” through April 15.

I now know more about the Jurassic era than I ever thought I would. Or ever really wanted to…

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

Visiting Philly earlier this month, we were drawn to The Franklin Institute for this dinosaur exhibit, as well as the giant walk-through heart. In the end, another unexpected BIG thing turned out to be the highlight of our visit.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

We would have loved this place more if we had: A) less whiny children; and B) a few more hours to cover all three floors of science and technology exhibits. We missed out on the planetarium, IMAX theater and 4D flight simulator.

With about 20 skeletons on display, the “Giant Mysterious Dinosaurs” exhibit was smaller than I had expected. Nonetheless, the kids got a kick out of seeing the 50-foot Mamenchisaurus skeleton and the three robotic dinos; a Protoceratops and two Saurolophus. Lots of kids (although not ours) swarmed the Gobi Desert Dig Pit to search for fossils. The Girl was too busy stomping on the floor pad in front of the Mapusaurus to make it growl.


I swear I took this photo before I saw the “no photography allowed” sign. Swear.

The giant walk-through heart – the largest of its kind in the U.S. – is two stories high, and would be the correct size for a 220-foot tall person. The journey through it involves some stair climbing, and the path is a little claustrophobic. Although there is informative signage, and great sound and lighting effects to demonstrate the physiological processes of a pumping heart, it was all a little overwhelming for The Girl. She couldn’t wait to get out.


The stairs to the left give some perspective on the height of this giant heart

What she liked the best wasn’t even on our radar initially.  The Train Factory houses the 350-ton locomotive Baldwin 60000, one of the largest ever built. This is a real train, and it is HUGE, especially when looking up to the top from the ground. Built in the late 1920’s, the Baldwin 60000 was designed as a prototype for a new generation of steam locomotives. It turned out to be a bust. Its design was too complicated for engineers and firemen to operate. At 350 tons, it was also too heavy, and damaged miles of track on a 1927 tour across the U.S.


The Baldwin 60000 Locomotive

We waited on line to board the engine car with a small group. The Girl and a few other kids happily took over at the controls, pretending to add coal to the fire, blowing the whistle, and releasing the throttle. The train really moves – albeit really slowly — 15 feet back and forth.


She's -- naturally -- most comfortable at the controls.

How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list): [rating=7]

What’s great about the Franklin Institute is each section has a distinctive theme, so you can identify areas where you want to spend time based on your interests. If you have pre-schoolers, check out KidScience. Athletes? Go to the Sports Challenge exhibit. If your kids love to tinker and figure out how mechanical objects work, check out the Amazing Machine section. This was The Boy’s favorite area. There is a real automaton on display, very similar to the one in the movie Hugo, which we had just seen.


Amazing Machine Exhibit

Hey you! Go BIG!:

The Franklin Institute

222 North 20th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103


Disclaimer: We received complimentary admission to The Franklin Institute from the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.


  1. Dorothy said,
    March 28, 2012 @ 11:04 am

    Hi Traci, Living vicariously through your GBOGH blog is a real joy for me. Thanks!

  2. Steve said,
    March 28, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

    I’m with your daughter…the walk-through heart is kind of creepy, but I do like the train! You could probably crush a whole stack of pennies at a time under those wheels!

  3. Mike said,
    March 28, 2012 @ 6:15 pm

    No mention of Matt in this post??? Whats up, no Dunkin Donuts nearby so he didn’t make the trip?

  4. March 28, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

    I haven’t been there since I was just a wee little thing. Kids seem to have very mixed reactions about the heart 🙂

  5. christina said,
    April 3, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

    Thanks for the recommendation… sounds fun