Mystery murals and missing plaques: Follow the map to uncover Philly’s resistance history

The Painted Bride’s scavenger hunt is a great way to explore the city, even if you don’t make it through the whole thing.

The map for the 'Run Away with the Bride' scavenger hunt

The map for the 'Run Away with the Bride' scavenger hunt

Aubri Juhasz / WHYY
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I can’t tell you exactly how I found out about Painted Bride Art Center’s “Run Away with the Bride” scavenger hunt. I probably saw it on Instagram, during one of the “What shall I do with my weekend?” scroll sessions I’ve done most Thursdays since moving to Philly last winter.

The Bride was founded in 1969 to uplift the work of under-represented artists. A longtime fixture in Old City, the center sold its iconic muraled building and recently reopened in a new home in West Philly.

This is its second year running the clue-finding contest, which is meant to encourage people to spend time outdoors while learning about social justice.

Sites of resistance are this year’s theme, inspired by the center’s Resistance Garden Project, which highlights urban spaces that help provide food for communities in need. The eight scavenger hunt locations are gardens, murals, statues and buildings that tell the stories of Philadelphians who stood up for the rights of marginalized people. Curated by Kalela Williams of Black History Maven, all you need to embark on the hunt is a $15 map illustrated by local artist Kara Sankus. (Proceeds benefit the center.)


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Seemed like a perfect Saturday activity for a recent transplant — see some new parts of the city and get a history lesson? Yes, please — so I pulled together a group of five, including two other Philly newbies, one relatively knowledgeable resident and a local history buff who I’d met on my recent “blind date experience” at the Fringe Fest (if you missed that, read about it here.)

The route takes hunters from North Philly to Old City, through Queen Village, and around the Gayborhood before ending in West, just past the Schuylkill River. Despite a few kinks in the instructions (see below), we had a marvelous day and learned a ton. I highly recommend it.

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Aubri Juhasz / WHYY

Before I go into details about the experience, some tips and technicals:

  • Plan your route in advance. You need to do some puzzling to find the location of each of the eight clues (the map only gives you a ballpark). So it helps to identify the locations beforehand so you can approach it in a geographically logical way.
  • Choose your team wisely! You’ll all need to work together to solve the clues. You’ve also got the option to split into two teams and compete with one another.
  • Bring water! It’s a lot of walking.
  • Leave time — the locations are spaced out and not all the clues are intuitive. Our team started around 2 p.m.and called it quits around 5 p.m. (without having visited the final two sites).
  • Consider transportation: If you visit all eight sites, you’ll be finishing somewhere far away from where you started, so you’ll need a plan for getting back. Most are within a one-mile walk of one another, but there are a few longer stretches where you may choose, as we did, to ride SEPTA.

The scavenger hunt runs through Oct. 15. You can do it in a day or stretch it out over a few weeks. Here’s what we found on our journey.

North Philly gems

We started at site number five on the map — the LIfe Do Grow farm near 11th and Dauphin in North Philly. The farm’s hand-painted wooden signage, stacks of tires, and bright murals make it feel distinctly home-grown.

A few facts about the farm:

  • It’s run by Urban Creators, a group of artists, organizers and growers invested in food and community education
  • It used to be 3 acres of vacant land
  • Organizers say they’ve provided over 140 employment and leadership development opportunities for 80+ Philadelphia youth and young adults, and curated more than 300 public events and neighborhood markets

We met two workers there who were unaware of the scavenger hunt and seemed surprised to see us, but still invited us to wander between the rows of herbs, produce, and flowers. I won’t spoil anything about the clue here (because what would be the fun in that?), though I will say this: it was among the hardest of the bunch.

Sculptures at the Cesar Andreú Iglesias Community Garden

Sculptures at the Cesar Andreú Iglesias Community Garden

Aubri Juhasz / WHYY

Our next stop was a short walk away (tip: take Norris street so you can pass by the eye-catching mural at Temple Station) to the Cesar Andreú Iglesias Community Garden.

What to know:

  • The garden was established by the Philly Socialists in 2012
  • It’s named for Cesar Andreú Iglesias, a Puerto Rican playwright and labor organizer
  • It’s still a stronghold for activism. Garden supporters have been fighting against real estate developers’ efforts to purchase the space. There was actually an organizer meeting happening there when we popped in!

No one on our team had been to either of these spots before. And if not for the scavenger hunt, we probably wouldn’t have. The walk between these locations also brought us through parts of North Philly that have suffered from historic disinvestment — we saw plenty of vacant lots, cracked sidewalks and unaddressed trash dumping. It’s a reminder to all Philadelphians that we still have a lot of work to do to create a just and equitable city.

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Aubri Juhasz / WHYY

Center City Sights

The tone of the scavenger hunt changes dramatically when you get to Old City. I’m only going to get into detail about one of these stops: the home of Free African Society member Cyrus Bustill. Scavenger hunters are asked to look for a small, pink shop with a historic plaque outside. We got close to the cross-streets and BINGO — adorable pink hut. It’s now a lovely walk-up bakery called Tartes. We stopped for a bite; I got an absolutely heavenly molasses cookie.

There was one problem: the plaque that should have confirmed this site as a historic landmark was gone! We were at the exact spot where it should have been, ready to fill us in on Bustill’s life — but no plaque! The bakery attendant informed us that someone drove over the sign, and the state has yet to replace it. Perhaps that’s another mystery to unfold?

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Aubri Juhasz / WHYY

Left puzzled

After a wander through Queen Village, we found the site of the Institute for Colored Youth, a Quaker-founded school that offered a one-of-a-kind intellectual and cultural hub for African American students — many of whom went on to become educators in their own right — from 1866 through 1902.

We then wandered through the Gayborhood, made a pit stop at Fergie’s Pub, and eventually found the mural that nods to LGBTQ rights activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya. (This one took us WAY too long to spot…hopefully you’ll have better luck.)

After six stops, we’d gathered enough clues to answer the “mystery phrase” at the bottom of the map.

But we had a problem. We were certain we’d guessed the phrase correctly, but the letters we’d discovered by solving the puzzles didn’t actually spell the phrase. Five brains between us, and we were stumped. It had grown too late in the day for all of us to continue, and the final two stops in Graduate Hospital and West Philly seemed just a little too far.

Feeling fulfilled and only a slight bit defeated, we put down our map and called it a day. We were a bit disappointed by the lack of an answer, but all in all agreed it was a pretty cool way to get to know each other — and our home city.

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