Inside Temple’s Secret Shoe Museum
Temple’s School of Podiatric Medicine is home to one of Philly’s hidden gems — so hidden, in fact, that the unique charm of the place doesn’t quite hit you until you leave. Temple’s Shoe Museum is a far cry from the pristine halls of Philadelphia’s iconic Art Museum; its artifacts are preserved in a cocoon of cinderblock, yellow fluorescent lights and dusty shelves. The museum curator, Barbara Williams, is a no-nonsense woman who was not too keen on giving me a tour in the first place. (You can only tour the exhibit by appointment … with Ms. Barbara.) Crack her shell, however, and you will find that she’s a source of infinite shoe knowledge, so put more time in the parking meter than you think.
Ms. Barbara (yes, that’s what everyone who works there calls her, so I followed suit) walked me through the cultural, anthropological and historical significance of nearly every single pair of shoes in the museum; there are about 250 on display, in a warren of cases that line the sixth floor of the podiatry school. When I looked past the underwhelming appearance – descriptions mounted on construction paper, foggy glass casing, and display shelves so low I had to squat – I was blown away by the remarkable variety of shoes in the museum. There are ancient Egyptian burial sandals so weathered the straps have fallen off; impossibly small Chinese slippers that women’s mangled feet once squeezed into; Victorian heels pitched so high a woman needed to clutch to a male escort in order to walk anywhere; a Native American princess’s intricately embroidered mukluks; splashy gold disco platform sandals.
The collection paints a picture of the fascinating history of shoes, and Barbara is its star storyteller. It’s a must-see, and just the sort of place that defines Philly: a hidden gem that’s rough around the edges but no less dazzling for it. (And it’s free!) Check out some of its highlights below.
The Details: The Shoe Museum at the Temple School of Podiatric Medicine, 148 North 8th Street, sixth floor, Market East. Visits are by appointment only;call 215-625-5243 or email [email protected] to schedule.