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Is That Penn’s Penis?

It’s hard to know how to handle this topic delicately, but so many people have remarked on this curiosity that it’s hard to avoid the subject. It concerns the massive statue of William Penn on top of Philadelphia’s City Hall. No other statue on a public building can match this 37-foot-high bronze for sheer size. And so the question leaps to the minds of anyone who looks at it as they drive down from Fairmount Park and the Art Gallery...did anyone realize how it would look from this angle?

The official story that Penn’s statue is holding a copy of the treaty he signed with the Lenni Lenape tribe, and it faces the place where the treaty was signed. However, the statue is holding the treaty at waist level, and while driving or strolling down the Franklin Parkway, it looks for all the world as though he’s preparing to urinate off the top of the building.

Now, this could be purely coincidental, but then again, Philadelphia has a history of high-profile puckish humor that dates back to Benjamin Franklin. The city’s art gallery houses several famous examples of Dada art, including a thematically linked Marcel Duchamp readymade: a porcelain urinal turned on its side and entitled Fountain. So the “Is that what I think it is?” moment you get at the sight of Penn on City Hall may have been intentional. But one thing’s sure: The sculptor Alexander Milne Caulder didn’t intend it. He never wanted his statue to be stuck on top of a tower.

In the interests of research, Weird Pennsylvania took a stroll beside City Hall to see where the statue appears to be aiming. The result raised more questions than answers. From an unscientific analysis of direction, distance, and angle, the intended target would appear to be the historic Masonic Temple and Methodist Episcopal buildings. There’s a punchline in there somewhere. Figure it out for yourself.

You can read about all of Pennsylvania’s Roadside Oddities and other curious attractions if Weird Pennsylvania.

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