A Capitol Museum

Along with a tour of the capitol building, I also wanted to visit St. Patrick’s, the State Museum, and the State Library. Unfortunately, I have now learned never to trust anything the internet claims about opening hours in the capital of the Commonwealth, because when I went to the library on Saturday morning, I couldn’t get in. But St. Patrick’s was beautiful, and the museum was well worth the price of admission (which was $6 with my AAA discount).

The lady at the desk told me to start at the top of the museum where the animals and dinosaurs are because they’re everyone’s favorites, and I smiled politely but thought, “That sounds kind of boring.” Instead, I turned absolutely 6 years old when I walked into the room, which was quiet, empty, and alive. I was sure everything I saw was going to follow me around and attack the moment I turned my back.

Augh! The dinosaur is going to get me! It's aliiiiive!

Augh! The dinosaur is going to get me! It’s aliiiiive!

After reminding myself that dinosaurs are big but no longer alive (even this one, Becca), I continued into the diorama room. It was breathtaking. Being from Western PA huntin’ country, I don’t find taxidermy odd or upsetting the way my more urban friends do, but here, they were displayed in so lifelike a way that I wanted to enter the scene and be part of it. My heart stopped at sight of the up-close beauty of PA’s native wildlife, from mountain lions to bobcats to foxes to bison (yes, bison), as though they could all come back to life with but the addition of a single breath.

In a reflective mood, I left the top floor and took the motorstair down a level to the history of transportation.

“Motorstair”? Really, PA? We’re calling them “escalators” this century.

Earlier in the capitol, I had searched a hallway of transportation murals for evidence that the artist knew PA had ever had a canal system and was disappointed to find nothing. So imagine my surprise when I found a whole section of the museum devoted not only to the canal, but to the Allegheny Portage Railroad, too!

Allegheny Portage Railroad! Hooray!

Allegheny Portage Railroad! Hooray!

As you know, a canal is a waterway that allows boats to cross land, which was The Thing To Do in the 1800s westward expansion. But I live in the mountains, and we all know that boats can’t float uphill. Even the lock system canals are known for were no match for the inclines of the Alleghenies. So the enterprising Pennsylvanians built a series of pulley systems that hauled the canal boats up five planes and down five plans to cross the steep Alleghenies before continuing by water from Johnstown to Pittsburgh.

Pennsylvania canal system with one of the inclines of the Allegheny Portage Railroad in the background.

Pennsylvania canal system with one of the inclines of the Allegheny Portage Railroad in the background.

It was pretty fantastic feeling justified by the capital confirming my part of the state not only exists, but is important enough to the state’s history to feature in the museum.

All in all, I honestly expected to be disappointed in the museum, and I was pleasantly surprised. I left at 5:00 on a Friday and a traffic cop was directing traffic (how quaint?), among them a Plymouth upholstered in dollah-dollah bills fabric. Hats off to you, sir; that is pretty fab.

If You Go
  • Admissions fee is $7 for adults with discounts for AAA members.
  • Parking is same as for the capitol building. Pricey. But nice of the meters to text you when you’re almost out of time!

After Harrisburg, Mom and I sallied forth to points farther east. Stay tuned for what came next.


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