Walk-Thru Giant Heart
The Giant Heart is one among many superlatives at the Franklin Institute, admittedly an old, sentimental favorite now surrounded by fancy interactive exhibits. Built as a temporary exhibit from paper mache in 1954, the Institute's two-story tall walk-through human heart was called "The Engine of Life." Today, it still beats -- you can feel the deep bass thrum-thrum as you turn the corner into the health gallery. The heart exerts an almost hypnotic power, as visitors heading for other exhibits are enticed to enter its moistly lit chambers.
We've seen other walk-thru hearts at science museums, but Philadelphia's is the largest in America. Once inside the heart, it's a fun climb on narrow stairs that twist through rounded chambers, like a castle at a fairytale theme park. Arteries and chambers are labeled along your journey, providing some minimal education about cardiac anatomy. "Dad, where are we now?" "Huh? Uh, we're in the ...superior vena cava!"
At one point, visitors leave the heart and head into a wheezy section of the lungs. But then it's back into the other ventricle of the heart. The walk-thru takes about two or three minutes -- there's not much opportunity to dawdle, with eager corpuscles pushing from behind -- but that's about all you need.
The Museum considered at points giving the heart an upgrade, with more nods to modern medicine and health. But they stuck with the classic attraction that generations of schoolkids love, with some sound and lighting augmentation. No sobering messages about cholesterol and proper exercise...it's simply, elegantly, the giant heart.