16 Misconceptions About Philadelphia

Being wedged a short Amtrak ride between the nation’s political capitol and its financial capitol, it’s easy to forget about the fifth largest city in the United States. Tourists pop in to see the Liberty Bell and eat a cheesesteak, leaving our reputation to be sourced from syndicated episodes of Cold Case. Here are some of my favorite misconceptions about the City of Brotherly Love.

16. We Don’t Care Who Makes the Best Cheesesteaks

The rivalry between Pat’s and Geno’s doesn’t extend too far beyond the tourists crowding around 9th and Passyunk. If you want a good cheesesteak without the attitude, grab one at a food cart for $3.50. But why bother? Philadelphia has one of the nation’s best restaurant scenes. If you want to spend $9 on a hoagie, get a Happy Sandwich at Valley Shepherd Creamery in Reading Terminal Market.

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15. We Don’t Care About Rocky

The infamous Rocky statue was removed from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a reason: it’s not art, it’s a studio prop. If you want to find him, his statue still stands nearby and you might even run into an impersonator. But the museum steps were significant long before Rocky’s first run in 1976, designed to create a humbling journey to one of the world’s most extensive collections of art.

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14. We’re Not Ugly

Philadelphia routinely bottoms out in endless health and beauty magazine polls. If tabloid statistics are to be believed, we haven’t had a sexy local since William Penn’s treaty with the Lenape Indians. Polls can be subjective especially when based entirely in opinion. When statistics show that America’s most racially and ethnically diverse cities are also our apparent “ugliest,” it says a lot more about those being surveyed than the attractiveness of any Philadelphian.

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13. We’re In Pennsylvania

I wouldn’t even have thought that this was a misconception until my old college roommate asked me what state I lived in. He knew I lived in Philadelphia, but honestly did not know whether it was in New Jersey or New York. It might be hard for those on the East Coast to grasp, but the states on the West Coast are massive. When you only really need to know California, Oregon, and Washington, the North East begins to look a lot like Europe.

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12. Philadelphia Cream Cheese is From New York

The cheese’s namesake was attributed to Philadelphia because Philadelphia was especially known for this type of cheese. Sorry, John Stewart. The brick is on you.

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11. We Have a Subway

Philadelphia has a local subway system, a New Jersey high speed subway, trollies, and one of the oldest networks of regional rail lines in the nation. In fact, it’s one of the most extensive and most used. You don’t need a car to live here and you’re perhaps better off without one. And on a related note, yes, you can hail a cab.

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10. We’re Not “Kind of a Big Baltimore”

With all due respect to the home of the Great John Waters, we share little in common with our southern neighbor. Baltimore is a car oriented city of detached neighborhoods much like Washington, D.C. It sits on a harbor, not the confluence of two rivers, and its “downtown” shuts down at five on Friday. If you have to compare us to any city (and it’s impossible to truly do so), compare us to New York. After all, we were once the United Kingdom’s second largest city.

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9. Always Sunny is Not That Exaggerated

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s creator Rob McElhenney is from Philadelphia and he knows what he’s talking about. You might not find anyone cruising the local morgue with a hotplate and a six pack of beer, looking for a taste of human flesh…maybe. But we’ve been known to go dumpster diving, have probably met a mobster, and I guarantee you that there are people boiling jeans that they found under a bridge.

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8. Philadelphia is Big

With almost 1.5M residents within the city limits and a metro area of more than 6M, we are the country’s fifth most populous city and metropolitan area. And those statistics don’t really mean much when you consider the geographic size of Phoenix or the fact that Washington, D.C. includes “suburbs” almost as close to the Ohio state line as the District of Columbia itself. If we did the same, we’d include Atlantic City, NJ and Reading, PA which house thousands who commute to the Philadelphia region.

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7. We’re Civilized

Why oh why won’t the internet let us forget that we threw snowballs at Santa…like, four decades ago? Michael Vick’s dog fighting scandal took place in Virginia, but we still get the “credit.” Our reputation is so sullied by the ingrates of our past and sports fans from New Jersey deliberately vomiting on children that Daniel Tosh once suggested giving the entire city its own Web Redemption. Philadelphia is home to some of the nation’s oldest clubs and oldest money. And those with less still enjoy unparalleled architecture, more public art than any city in the world, and live theater that could easily pass for Broadway. Philadelphia is also home to the nation’s first hospital dedicated solely to children, and long before the Affordable Healthcare Act, uninsured children have received free access to care. That defines civility.

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6. We Have a Skyline

That skyline you saw in Twelve Monkeys, the one you thought was Manhattan? That was Philadelphia in 1992 and it’s only grown. Until 1987, no building was taller than the statue of William Penn atop City Hall due to an antiquated Gentleman’s Agreement. But even then it was tall, considering City Hall is just a few meters shorter than the Washington Monument. Ever since Liberty Place towered over City Hall in 1987, our skyline has grown more dynamically than most. The Gentleman’s Agreement kept developers from razing historic brownstones in the 50s and 60s to create the walls of skyscrapers you find in Chicago and Seattle. Our towers rise around our history and not in its place creating a three dimensional skyline that looks unique from each direction. Soon, Comcast’s Center for Innovation and Technology will be the tallest building in the United States outside New York or Chicago.

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5. We Love Ben Franklin, But Not in That Way

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, but according to 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon, he moved to Philly when he realized Boston “sucked.” The man was the Founding Father of Founding Fathers, a treasonous revolutionary willing to die for a democratic renaissance. But who cares? Benjamin Franklin is purported to have said, “Beer is proof that God loves us,” and whether or not he ever uttered those words, it’s no doubt that he shared the same sentiment that has kept Yuengling in business since 1829. He was the world’s original hipster. Step into any dive bar in Philadelphia and you’ll find yourself immersed in conversations that echo the beer soaked rants of our dear friend Ben.

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4. Betsy Ross Probably Didn’t Live at the Betsy Ross House

There is no solid evidence that proves Betsy Ross ever lived in the landmark. Historians’ best guess is that she may have resided in the house, or in a house next-door that now serves as the house’s garden. But no records in Philadelphia directly indicate that she ever lived at 239 Arch Street, or sewed the first Old Glory for that matter.

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3. Philadelphia Hosted the “Olympics”

For more than four decades, the United States and the Soviet Union were in the throws of the most boring war the world had ever seen. From 1947 to 1991, not a single shot was officially fired in the name of the Cold War. That didn’t stop the two nations that defined the notion of a “Superpower” from behaving like passive aggressive sisters who refused to speak after an argument over wedding invitations. In 1980, Moscow won the bid to host the Olympic Summer Games and the United States and much of the Western World was not too happy about it. Twenty-nine countries participated in the Liberty Bell Classic, affectionally referred to as the Boycott Games, at the University of Pennsylvania. Moscow returned the favor four years later when Los Angeles hosted the Summer Games, with its own Boycott Games dubbed the Friendship Games. Because nothing says “friendship” like worn political rhetoric.

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2. Philadelphia Has More Cezanne’s Than Paris…in One Museum

The Barnes Foundation’s relocation to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was a hotly contested move, but what some may not know is exactly what it houses. Albert Barnes made his fortune fighting the clap, but his true passion was collecting artwork that was modern in his time. He had an eye for art, because the 2500 pieces he amassed are now worth $25 billion.

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1. We Are Proud of Our City

Philadelphia once tried to shred its reputation as a self loathing curmudgeon with the most curmudgeonly slogan of all time, “Philadelphia Isn’t As Bad as Philadelphians Say It Is.” Complaining is an art to most Philadelphians, and many of those complaints come down to the city and ourselves. Our own local vernacular has even dubbed this “Negadelphian.” But despite what we say about our city services, the Class Clowns in City Hall, routine union strikes, and even our neighbors, Philadelphians love Philadelphia. “The City of Brotherly Love” isn’t accidental irony. We love one another…like that crazy family member we don’t really like, but will ruthlessly defend ‘til the end.

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