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Philly's Macy's/Wanamaker's: World's Largest Musical Instrument & Iconic Department Store

Macy's Department Store in Center City Philadelphia in an absolute gem of a downtown department store that is just stunning to explore. It is home to world's largest playable musical instrument and is a destination that is well worth checking out.

The grand urban department store is a breed that is rapidly dwindling. First, changing retail tastes took a major chunk out of downtown department stores and shopping out to suburban malls in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Many department stores closed, but at least one or two others were still able to hang on in the major cities. Consolidation in the industry from the 90s through today brought in outside ownership to many of these department stores in which outside companies did not feel the same attachment to the often illustrious pasts of these old stores. Pittsburgh lost its last grand department store, Kaufmann's, a few years ago. In 2002, Cleveland lost its flagship department store, Higbee's, which was prominently featured in A Christmas Story. Philadelphia was once home to at least four major flagship department stores:
  • Lit Brothers, which closed in 1977
  • Gimbels, which created the first Thanksgiving Parade in the country, closed in 1993,  
  • Strawbridge's was able to hold on until 2006, 
  • Wanamaker's

The latter, and grandest, of those stores lives on to this day as Macy's. Both Strawbridge's and Wanamaker's were acquired by the May Company in the mid 90s. When Macy's purchased the May Company in 2006, they promptly closed the old Strawbridge's flagship in favor of retaining the Wanamaker's store. They have thankfully kept Wanamaker's and its illustrious history alive in Center City Philadelphia. Lots of the old Wanamaker's touch and old signage remains throughout the store. 
The corner of Macy's/Wanamaker's, which has stood tall in Center City since 1902. 
John Wanamaker set out to create a "new kind of store" and opened the world's first modern department store in 1876, in time for the centennial celebrations in the city. He expanded in 1902 with the construction of this opulent retail palace that was designed by legendary architect, Daniel Burnham.

Wannamaker's touch with retailing was in making shopping an extravagant experience for his customers, with the addition of many cutting edge technological innovations. Technologies that we take for granted today, including electrical lighting, and telephones, were quickly implemented by John Wanamaker. He even played a huge role in the creation of Mother's Day in 1908.
Additionally, and possibly most importantly, he appreciated the dignity of his workers. In a commercial sector not often known as being generous with its workers, Wanamaker offered his employees free healthcare, recreational opportunities, profit sharing, and pensions. He also demanded that his management treat every employee with respect. He was a religious man and believed that if "every man was equal in the eyes of God, then they all should pay the same price," which meant that he pioneered the concept of price tags. Prior to this, haggling was the norm in retailing. 

John Wanamaker was a gilded age entrepreneur that did not let greed get in the way of treating his employees and customers with basic human dignity. He even dabbled in politics, serving as postmaster general under President Harrison and introducing the first commemorative stamp, though his record in that office was generally mixed. He advocated against unions because he believed that they were not necessary if a business were well managed. He never dealt with labor issues because he treated his workers well. He also was a firm believer in building community and opened the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, Philadelphia's largest homeless shelter and the third oldest remaining mission in the country, with the help of several other regional philanthropic entrepreneur's, including W. Atlee Burpee of Burpee Seeds, and John Stetson of Stetson Hats. Wanamaker was a different kind of Gilded Age industrialist whose benevolence was both outwardly visible in the community, and with his workers, in contrast to other gilded age industrialists that would put on a big show philanthropically, but then treat their workers without human dignity behind the scenes. 
The classic cursive script initials of John Wanamaker, put into a mosaic in the entry way to the store.
By far though, the most famous and recognizable aspect of Wanamaker's is the organ. This is the largest operating musical instrument on the planet, with 28,500 pipes, six ivory keyboards, 729 color-coded stop tablets, 168 piston buttons (under the keyboards) and 42 foot controls. The largest pipe, made of three-inch-thick Oregon sugar pine, is more than 32 feet long and the smallest is a quarter-inch long. (Source: Friends of the Wanamaker Organ and Macy's)

The organ was built by the Los Angeles Art Organ Company for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. It put the initial manufacturer out of business with an initial price tag of 105,000 dollars, an absolutely obscene amount of money in that time period. John Wanamaker got the organ for a bargain and loaded the organ onto 13 fright cars in 1909. It took two years to build it. It originally had 10,000 pipes, but John Wanamaker judged this to not be loud enough to fill the enormous Grand Court of his department store, so he created a private organ factory to add another 18,500 pipes to the organ up through 1930.
The keyboards for the organ. The organ is played every day of the week except Sundays. During the holidays, the Grand Court is lavishly decorated with a light show that accompanies the music that is played on the organ. 
"Meet me at the Eagle" is a phrase that Philadelphians have said when it came to meeting in Center City at the Department Store. The eagle came from the German Pavilion at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. It is perched right in the center of the elegant Grand Court at the department store. It weighs so much that the floor needed to be reinforced.

This elegant department store was also the primary filming location for Mannequin. 
The bronze eagle is beautiful, along with the rest of the Macy's Department Store.
For a shopping experience from a day gone by, Center City Philly's historic Macy's is the place to go. For me to make a statement about going to a department store, and enjoying it, says a lot about the place. The organ, eagle, and architecture are not to be missed. With it being located right across the street from City Hall, and just a few blocks from Reading Terminal Market, One Liberty Place Observation Deck, the Franklin Institute, and so much more, you need to be sure to stop in and check it out, especially during the holidays. 


One Liberty Place Observation Deck: Philly from the Top

Want to get a stunning view of the City of Philadelphia from above? The One Liberty Place Observation Deck is a wonderful place to check out to take in these views. Once you reach the observation deck on the 57th floor, you will not want to leave.
I want to start this article by saying that One Liberty Place is one of the most stunning skyscrapers to come out of the 80s. In a time when skyscraper designs often consisted of run-of-the-mill smooth glass walls with minimal differential between them, One Liberty Place stands out with its stylized walls that take heavy inspiration from the grand Chrysler Building in New York. Building a skyscraper of this magnitude in Center City Philadelphia in and of itself was an act of non-conformity. Prior to this point, a gentlemen's agreement stated that no building could exceed the height of the city's stunning City Hall at 548 feet. One Liberty Place stands at 945 feet and transformed the Philly skyline and lead towards superstition that building higher than City Hall lead towards a championship drought. When Comcast built its two Center City Towers that beat One Liberty Place in height, they placed a figurine of William Penn on the highest girder of each building, and the Phillies would go on to win the World Series in the year following construction of the first Comcast Tower in 2008, and following the completion of the Comcast Technology Center, the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2018.

A view slightly northeast, giving a glimpse into what the statue of William Penn has seen for more than a century. Note the windiness of the Delaware River. Most of the horizon in this view is out in New Jersey.
A more north/northeasterly view of the city. The relatively flat topography of Philadelphia gives a seemingly endless view of the horizon. You also get a true sense on why Philadelphia's urban center is referred to as Center City instead of "Downtown," a point that is often lost upon outsiders to the city. The initial planning of the city by William Penn in the 1600s specifically called this part of his plan "Centre Square" and the following development and growth of the city has led towards what would typically be considered a downtown to be in the heart of the city. One Liberty Place stands right in the center of Center City and gives a great view of so much.
Another slightly northeast view.
A more westerly view, with a look towards the rail yards of 30th Street Station, the Schuykill River, the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. 
The rail yards at 30th Street Station, with a look at an NJ Transit train that is headed to the shore in Atlantic City.
A view over South Philly.
A look towards the CSX Railyards and the Navy Yard
A view of the stadiums. Citizens Bank Park is home to the Phillies and was in the midst of a Sunday afternoon game when this photo was shot. Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Eagles and Temple Football, is next door in the background.
The CoreStates Center/First Union Center/Wachovia Center/Wells Fargo Center, the home of the Flyers, 76ers, and more.
Looking across the Schuylkill, you see historic and storied Franklin Field. This classic football stadium is an absolute gem. The current structure dates back to the 1920s and was home to some of the earliest radio and television football broadcasts, and home to the world famous Penn Relays in Track and Field. The Eagles played in the stadium from 1958 to 1970.
Franklin Field, with the Cathedral of College Basketball, the Palestra, to the right. The Palestra has hosted more NCAA games and tournaments than any other venue in existence. It was built in 1927 and is said to be the most important building for turning college basketball into what it is today. Philly's Big 5 basketball teams, Penn, Temple, LaSalle, St. Joe's, and Villanova Universities have basically shaped the evolution of college basketball, right at the storied Palestra.
Looking more downwards towards City Hall, Reading Terminal Market, Wannamaker's Department Store (Macy's), the PSFS Building (Loew's Philadelphia), the Ben Franklin Bridge, and more. Of the 360 degree views offered from this observation deck, this is probably my favorite because it shows the bulk of the old Center City and Chinatown architectural masterpieces.
We highly recommend checking out One Liberty Place. There is so much to see from the view that you will have a hard time leaving.

For more information on visiting, check out their website at www.phillyfromthetop.com


28+ Must-See PA Autumn Destinations

An autumn view of the Lehigh Gorge from the Fireline Trail at Hickory Run State Park in the Pocono Mountains
The view from Loyalsock State Forest's High Knob Overlook at sunset
It is time to start planning some autumn adventures! Since our last fall articles, we have added a few more places that you have to check out during the fall. We have visited places all across the state during autumn, and these are some of our favorites. Whether you open your door and look outside, or if you go to your local state park, you are sure to see some beauty. The following are just a few of our absolute favorite places to check out in autumn, thanks to their exceptional beauty. 

For some bonus places, be sure to check out all of the places on our massive guide to some the state's many spectacular scenic overlooks and vistas. 
1) Fallingwater, Mill Run, PA, Fayette County
Fallingwater: One of the most famous houses in the world
This world renowned Frank Lloyd Wright architectural wonder is absolutely stunning to see in autumn. The stark beauty of Fallingwater and the falls that it was built over are highlighted with the spectacular colors of the fall trees. We highly recommend going on a tour of the grounds and the building. For more information on visiting, check out their website at www.fallingwater.org
2) Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, PA, Northumberland and Columbia County
Knoebels is always our favorite place to visit within the state. The fantastic coasters, classic rides, and overall atmosphere of the park are heightened by the crisp autumn air and vivid fall colors. The park, along with Columbia and Montour Counties, also holds a Covered Bridge Festival on October 3rd, 4th 5th, and 6th, where the local covered bridges are celebrated, including the ones located within the amusement park. The park also has Phoenix Phall Phunfest on October 7th as a kickoff to the Halloween season, with craft vendors, celebrations, a bonfire in their campground, and more.  This kicks off the park's Hallo-Fun Weekends, October 11 – 13, 18 – 20, 25 – 27. We highly recommend taking in America's largest free admission, traditional amusement park as a part of your fall activities. For more information about visiting the park, check out our article and also visit www.knoebels.com
There is something so special about being at or above the height of a flying eagle, hawk, osprey, or other majestic bird. At a height of 2780 feet on the Allegheny Front Escarpment, you will see raptors, other birds, dragonflies, monarchs, and other creatures make spectacular sliding and swooping maneuvers both above you and below you as they sweep into the valley below during their spring and fall migrations. The Allegheny Front serves as a prime migration spot, where single-day counts of hawks can measure into the hundreds, or even thousands, Bald and Golden Eagles into the dozens, and countless vultures, and other creatures. For more information about the spot, check out our article on it. 
4) Big Pocono State Park, Tannersville, PA, Monroe County
The view from Big Pocono State Park, at the top of Camelback Mountain Ski Area and Resort
There are a ton of fun sightseeing opportunities and activities going on in the Pocono region of the state. One of my favorite places to check out is Big Pocono State Park, high atop Camelback Mountain Ski Area and Resort. This overlook gives you a wide expanse of view over the Poconos, and to as far out as New Jersey and New York. There are also a ton of different activities to do at Camelback, including an alpine roller coaster, zip lining, and more. There are also a plethora of different places to see throughout the Poconos
Our fourth stop takes us to Hickory Run State Park, one of the finest of PA's State Parks. The reds and yellows on the trees are fiery, and the contrast of them with the park's spectacular boulder field, especially in the midst of some morning fog, is nothing short of breathtaking. Terrific autumn views can be had throughout the park, especially the boulder field, and up on the Fireline Trail, looking down upon beautiful Lehigh Gorge. Last fall was not our first visit to the state park, but it was our first visit in the Autumn, and it was well worth the four hour drive from Pittsburgh. For more information on some of the many places to see at this huge state park, check out our article about it here

Heading south from Hickory Run, along the Lehigh River, you will see many tremendous views of the Lehigh Gorge. Once you enter Jim Thorpe, you see the spectacular landscape, joined with beautiful Victorian architecture. Hop onto an excursion train ride along the gorge, or head on a hike up the gorge at Glen Onoko Falls or one of the other many amazing hikes in the area. We were amazed with our visit to the Lehigh Gorge and Pocono Mountains area last fall. For more information, check out this article. 

Whether you are lakeside, or checking out the awesome vistas from higher up in the gorge of the Allegheny River, you are sure to see some amazing autumn views at the Allegheny Reservoir. One of the most stunning spots to visit is the Rimrock Overlook, a rock outcropping complete with a large stone stairway that takes you out to a perch high above the Allegheny Reservoir.
8) Strasburg Railroad, Strasburg, PA, Lancaster County
One of the four pristine early 20th century steam locomotives of  the Strasburg Railroad.
Hard work ethic is what makes Pennsylvania what it is. At no place is this more evident in the state than riding through Amish Country on the Strasburg Railroad in the fall. Amish farmers are tending to harvesting the crops they have worked so hard to tend to throughout the year. Around the area, you will find freshly baked goods and harvested crops. 
The ride through Amish Country
The railroad itself is also the result of very hard work. The Strasburg Railroad is part of a collaborative effort to preserve a historic short line railroad and to fully restore equipment from the golden age of railroading. Thanks to these efforts, there is a fine fleet of pristine locomotives, passenger cars, cabooses, and more, that are restored with full accuracy to their original specifications. My parents brought me here when I was little and visiting the railroad brings about great family memories that I've held on to ever since. Going back, I appreciate more and more how amazing this railroad is. This is an awesome place to visit at any time of the year, but especially during the autumn months. For more information on visiting, check out www.strasburgrailroad.com
A pumpkin patch next to the railroad.
If the call of the wild beckons, Elk Country in the PA Great Outdoors Region in Benezette, PA is where you want to go. Autumn is the time of the rut, when the Elk practice their mating rituals. You will see male suitors duke it out, grunt, stomp, and lock antlers and compete while their potential mate watches. It is a spectacular sight. Couple that with the fall colors, especially at the nearby Marion Brooks Reserve with its amazing grove of birches, and the rest of the attractions in the PA Great Outdoors Region, and you have a terrific place to go in the fall, in addition to the nearby Kinzua Bridge. This region is perfect. Nearby Clarion also holds an Autumn Leaf Festival, complete with amusement rides, vendors, and more.
10) and 11) Worlds End State Park and Loyalsock State Forest, Sullivan County
The views afforded at Worlds End State Park and the Loyalsock State Forest in the autumn are nothing short of incredible. The colors make the trees almost appear as if they are on fire. It is incredible to see. Loyalsock Canyon Vista in Worlds End State Park and the High Knob Overlook in the adjacent Loyalsock State Forest, are stunning places to take in these fall views.
View from High Knob Overlook at sunset
View from the Loyalsock Canyon Vista at Worlds End State Park
The views at these vistas in their autumn splendor are absolutely breathtaking.

12) Ricketts Glen State Park 
Ricketts Glen State Park is a stunning place to visit in any season, but especially towards the end of autumn and the cusp of winter. The freshly fallen leaves cover the ground and the banks along the creeks and waterfalls at the park. Safety is highly recommended, with a good pair of boots, some drinks, and some snacks as the 7.2 mile loop of the main falls is rigorous and slick at times. You also need to keep up on updates from the park in regards to weather and trail conditions, for the trails close for regular hiking without proper ice hiking equipment in mid November. 
13) Steamtown: Scranton, PA
Heading out on an excursion train ride at Steamtown National Historic site in Scranton is a wonderful thing to do. Nay Aug Gorge, which is traversed on many of these excursions, is stunning to see with some fall color. For more information on visiting, check out our article on this awesome place.

14) and 15) Marie Antoinette Overlook and Wyalusing Rocks, Route 6 in Bradford County
Similar to the last two, these overlooks are within a few miles of each other. It is also easy to make a beeline 45 minutes northeast from Worlds End to hit these two overlooks. The history at both of these spots is extremely fascinating, and well worth checking out. 
The Marie Antoinette Overlook looks out over a stunning bend in the Susquehanna River. French Azilum, a place that was rumored to be an exile point for the ill-fated French Queen. In the fall, the colors in this area are extraordinary.
Just a little bit east of Marie Antoinette Overlook, is the Wyalusing Rocks Overlook, looking over an even tighter bend in the Susquehanna River. This place has been a historic spot for many generations of history in North America and is well worth checking out.  
16) Brady's Bend: Clarion County

This scenic overlook is beautiful in every season, but it is especially stunning the fall. For information on the location, check out our article.
17) Kennerdell Overlook: Venango County
 18) Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, PA, Allegheny County
If you live in Pittsburgh, a great place to go spend a weeknight or afternoon is at Schenley Park. 
Serpentine Drive in Schenley Park
As one of our nation's largest urban wooded areas, you are bound to find beautiful colors at every corner of the park and throughout the CCC, Great Depression era, infrastructure throughout the park. 
 19) Route 40 Overlook, Hopwood, PA, Laurel Highlands, Fayette County
The Route 40 Overlook in Hopwood, deep in the Laurel Highlands and near Ohiopyle State Park, Fallingwater, and Laurel Caverns. This overlook looks over a deep crevasse and Uniontown. The colors are especially vivid at this spot, in addition to Ohiopyle State Park
 20) Wine Country, North East, PA, Erie County
Fresh grapes? Need I say more? Between the cool colors, the smell of harvested grapes lingering through the air, and the always awesome views of Lake Erie, North East, PA is an awesome place to sit and relax. Be sure to check out the dozens of wineries and vineyards up and down the shores of Lake Erie.
There is nothing like fresh grapes!
 21) Tunnelview Park, New Alexandria, PA, Westmoreland County
Tunnelview Park, Indiana County
Tunnelview Park is home to multiple generations of canal and rail history, with three transportation related tunnels, and accompanying bridges. This is a spectacular and often overlooked spot, deep in the Loyalhanna Gorge. Read more about this awesome place from this article about an autumn visit and one from a winter visit. 
 22) Mingo Creek Park, Finleyville, PA, Washington County
Mingo Creek Park in Washington County is a place that takes its covered bridges seriously. They have two beautiful covered bridges, including one that was moved and saved from demolition. The autumn colors are especially vibrant in this location. For more information on visiting, check out our article on this awesome place. 
 23Renziehausen Park Rose Garden and Arboretum, McKeesport, PA, Allegheny County

The Renzie Park Rose Garden in McKeesport is the result of decades of hard work by community members through the Garden Club of McKeesport. The fall roses, coupled with the colors of the trees of the arboretum, make this an exceptional site to take in the sights of autumn.

The wooded nature of Pittsburgh lends itself to having awesome autumn views, and fall colors tend to hit the city much later than most of the state, meaning that the colors don't often appear until well into October. The University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning is specifically awesome during this time of the year, thanks to the annual Polish and Slovak Festivals, and Pitt Homecoming, when they shoot fireworks off of the venerable skyscraper.
  25) Nockamixon State Park, Near Quakertown, PA, Bucks County
There is nothing quite like the feeling of crisp autumn air when you are out on the water. Lake Nockamixon at Nockamixon State Park is an awesome place to go during the fall months for these reasons. Additionally, the leaves seem to get exceptionally colorful in this location. Horseback riding, hiking, boating, sail boating, and more await visitors to this awesome state park. Nearby, you can also check out the funky Ringing Rocks County Park, home to an exceptional geologic wonder. For more information on visiting, check out our article on Nockamixon. 
26) Raystown Lake

While Raystown Lake is beautiful to visit at any time of the year, the Proud Mary Showboat offers special autumn cruises to see the colors on the lake. Be sure to check this out!

27) Forbes State Forest and Linn Run State Park, Westmoreland and Somerset Counties
This area has some incredible hikes and views. It is well worth checking out in the autumn. Here is a guide of the area around Linn Run State Park. 

28) Right outside your door! 
Autumn is stunning in PA, so get out there and appreciate it!

This list is far from all encompassing, but these are places you should plan to see at least once during the fall months. Have a great time! For further suggestions on places to check out, be sure to explore our Vistas and Scenic Overlooks guide at the following link, all of which are sure to look great in the fall months. 
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