Penn Museum’s Legends of the Hidden Temple Event Sold Out in 2 Days

An event inspired by a 1990s kids’ game show has meant droves of attention for the Penn Museum. We talk with Kate Quinn, the museum’s director of programming.

Penn Museum - Olmec

The Penn Museum is going back to the 90s later this month.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of days for the staff at the Penn Museum. The phone has been ringing off the hook. The museum has been the top trend on Facebook. It’s the talk of the country.

The museum has not made a new discovery or acquired an ancient artifact. Instead, it’s holding a Legends of the Hidden Temple event at the museum on April 20th. The Penn Museum originally planned for 100 guests. But a crush of interest led them to up the capacity to 250. It still sold out in 48 hours.

“Institutions like ours are trying to become more relevant to various audiences,” Kate Quinn, the Penn Museum’s director of exhibitions and public programs, tells Philadelphia magazine. “We’re reaching out to a more diverse audience to help them to come into this institution and find their way whenever possible. It’s getting them in the door and exposing them into what we have. If they’re not coming just based on what we offer, then what can we offer to get them in the door?”

Quinn says no event has sold out as quickly as this one.

Legends of the Hidden Temple ran for 120 episodes over three seasons on Nickelodeon — plus a few more years of reruns — in the 1990s. The game show, a kind of Jeopardy! meets American Gladiators meets Indiana Jones, featured a early Mesoamerica-themed set with a talking Olmec Head. Contestants — grouped into teams like the Blue Barracudas and the Purple Parrots — competed in a variety of trivia and physical challenges. The final event was a three-minute run of physical and mental challenges through the temple. (The Penn Museum, incidentally, has a massive Mesoamerican collection.)

The Penn Museum’s Legends event will include a variety of challenges from different Philadelphia museums:

  • The American Philosophical Society will quiz contestants on how much they know about Native American cultures.
  • The Mütter Museum is still finalizing its plans, but it will deal with the native peoples of Mexico and Central America.
  • The Academy of Natural Sciences will test contestants with physical challenges related to human evolution.
  • Eastern State Penitentiary plans to ask visitors to find an artifact related to ancient Egyptian incarceration practices.

The Penn Museum has held events like this before — but for kids. Basically, Quinn and her staff have discovered that millennials will embrace museums if you offer them an obstacle course with a dash of nostalgia. “It’s a stepping stone,” she says. “We embrace this, definitely — we’re just trying to find the best way to get people to embrace the museum and not compromise our mission.” The mission statement is, “The Penn Museum transforms understanding of the human experience.” It might seem odd to have to do it with Green Monkeys and Silver Snakes, but this event certainly fits that mission.

For those of you didn’t get in, you are not out of luck: The Museum says that, due to all the attention, it is looking into planning another Legends event. “It’s been incredible,” Quinn says. “We’re getting calls all over the place. We’re interested in people being interested! It’s really about nostalgia.”

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