In the age of Instagram and TikTok, there are plenty of venues out there promising the best pictures for those who love to share. Then, of course, there are museums out there sourced on education and inducing a sense of wonder for all ages.
The Museum of Illusions Philadelphia is one of the few spots that actually can say it does all of the above.
Opening this weekend, the new 500 square foot facility now set permanently on 4th and Market (401 Market St. to be exact) boasts 60+ visual and educational exhibits featuring holograms, stereograms, optical illusions, immersive rooms and special Philly installations unique to this location.
Rob Cooper, a Philly native and founder of Museum of Illusions’ parent company, LOL Entertainment, says conjuring the idea of the museum was a family affair. Known now as the world’s fastest-growing museum chain, the first Museum of Illusions opened in 2015 in Zagreb, Croatia, and has expanded to more than 30 museums globally—and the Cooper family helped bring the idea to the U.S.
Cooper, who currently resides in West Chester and COO Jason Mitchell, both wanted to bring this concept to the City of Brotherly Love for quite some time. But, the first venture for the group was actually in the Windy City in the middle of Covid in November 2020. They were then shut down along with everyone else during a surge, but reopened at the end of January 2021. It’s been a hit there ever since.
LOL Entertainment is also gearing up for two more locations to open in Phoenix later in 2022, and Boston sometime next year. Seems like a tall order? Well, “we know a lot more now,” according to Cooper.
That knowledge and experience brings some staple exhibits to the Philly location such as The Beuchet Chair Illusion, which if you peruse through Instagram, this is the snapshot you’ll most likely see associated with the brand. What this specific moment explores is the laws of depth perception and size as you take turns posing with this super-popular optical illusion.
The Vortex Tunnel is another fan-favorite that will be calling the Museum of Illusions Philadelphia home. Similar to some of the nostalgic carnival mind tricks, this tunnel is meant to confuse your brain and vestibular system as you walk on completely flat ground but feel like you’re doing the exact opposite—and yes, it’s meant to be that trippy.
The use of mirrors in the museum is almost as essential as the use of say, bread in a sandwich shop. And the MOI has around 50 of them in all shapes and sizes utilized throughout the venue. In fact, it’s one sole job of one of the 20 staff members on any given day to clean them.
One of the more popular uses of mirrors comes through the Head on the Platter illusion, which visually makes whoever is in it look body-less or like a floating head. Another exhibit, modeled after Philly’s own Elfreth’s Alley uses a gigantic mirror installation to make visitors look as though they are hanging off the side of the building in a photo (this particular exhibit may not open right away.)
Speaking on the idea of keeping it local, there will also be an upside-down Philly diner-themed room with more photo ops, and Benjamin Franklin himself is on display towards the entrance of the museum. Franklin serves as an illusion, but perhaps what is most enthralling about having The Newton of Electricity on display happens at night—Franklin’s eyes glow and with optical tricks, his eyes follow as you pass by. So, that will be hard to miss.
Other photo ops include the Anti-Gravity Room, Ames Room (which boasts a similar trick to the Beuchet Chair), Clone Table and the Infinity Well, among others. What sets the Museum of Illusions Philadelphia apart isn’t just the wow factor, but also the educational aspect. Every room you walk into, every puzzle you try to crack, and everything hanging on the wall is meant to dazzle and entertain… but it also comes with an explanation.
So, you’ll figure out why when you look at spinning black and white-clad turntables on a wall and then glance at your hand you see your skin crawling. Or, why when getting closer to something it completely changes shape. Some exhibits use your phone as well, and they will be clearly marked. The trick with those according to COO Mitchell is that “we are smarter than our smartphones… they don’t have depth perception.” So, you might not be able to look up a recipe for cupcakes in less than 10 seconds like on your phone, but you can witness optical illusions unfold for yourself, and the MOI is here to explain why.
There will also be a room with large table games and mind-teasers, as well as some available in the Museum’s Smart Shop. The Museums of Illusions Philadelphia also prides itself on being great for all ages, and with the unique pull of teasing one’s senses, it does create a space for anyone—from kids to grandparents—to enjoy it in their own way.
What also sets the establishment apart according to Cooper is its staff. Think of them as guides who are there to answer any questions, be present, and ultimately tie your experience up in a bow while visiting. By also utilizing local construction and keeping what makes Philly so one-of-a-kind, the museum aims to be a new staple. Come and see for yourself, and you’ll find out why—but not without a few tricks along the way.
For information, hours of operation and tickets, visit moiphilly.com.