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Pop Pilgrims

Philadelphia: The Rocky stairs

People of all ages and all races recreate Rocky’s famous training scene at the Philadelphia Museum Of Art all day, every day, no matter the weather.

About This Episode

When The A.V. Club showed up at the Philadelphia Museum Of Art on a hot day in mid-June, we hoped to see someone run up museum’s famous stairs, Rocky-style. What we didn’t realize was that people would be doing it continuously for the few hours we were there—all ages, all races, all doing the exact same thing: running up to the top, throwing their arms in the air, and posing for photos.

Seriously, it never stopped. There was always someone on the steps. Pulitzer-winning journalist Michael Vitez says it happens every hour of every day, in every kind of weather. He wrote a whole book about the phenomenon: Rocky Steps: Tales Of Love, Hope, And Happiness At America’s Most Famous Steps, based on Vitez and photographer Tom Gralish spending an entire year at the steps and getting the stories behind the people running up them.

Do a Google News search for the word “iconic,” and you’ll see it gets thrown around a lot, but the continuation of this phenomenon 35 years after Rocky hit theaters certainly justifies the title. When five busloads of kids—many of whom claim to have seen the movie—sprint out of their buses up the stairs to recreate a movie made 20 years before their birth, something’s up.

It sparked a debate while we were there shooting: Where else does this kind of thing happen? None of us could think of anything that matched the scale of the steps at the art museum. The subject of Wednesday’s Pop Pilgrims segment has a big event where people recreate a famous movie scene, but that’s a once-a-year phenomenon. So we’ll pose the question to readers: Can you think of another place where something similar happens?

At the top of the stairs are some bronze Chuck Taylor footprints with the word “ROCKY” in the spot where Sylvester Stallone stood in the original film. The scene would be recreated in subsequent Rocky films, and for Rocky III, the filmmakers commissioned a statue to go at top of the steps. When they finished shooting, they left the statue, which sparked a debate. The museum didn’t want an 8-foot movie prop on its classical steps, so the Fairmont Park Commission—which owns the land around the museum—moved the statue to the Spectrum sports arena, then to the Wachovia Center arena. When Rocky Balboa was in production, the statue was moved back to the museum steps for shooting. After that film wrapped, the park commission worked out a compromise to put the statue in a park area adjacent to the museum steps, where it remains. People run up the steps, take their picture, then go take their photo with the statue. 

Now if only the Philadelphia Museum Of Art could get all of those people to come inside.

Filed Under: Video
  • Pop Pilgrims
  • 67 Episodes
  • Pop Pilgrims is our pop-culture travel show, in which we visit sites that are relevant to movies, music, TV, and more, from The Shawshank Redemption prison to the apartment from Vertigo.