Philadelphia society had never seen such excitement. The streets and sidewalks outside the Academy of Music teemed with hundreds of people straining to catch a glimpse of the royal party.

Spectators watched elegant carriages pull up along Broad Street and drop off passengers: women in fluffy ball gowns and sparkling jewelry, and men in top hats, black suits, and white kid gloves.

But the real attraction was Britain's Prince of Wales - the future Edward VII - who arrived about 8 p.m., "attired as a private gentleman without ribbon or order," according to newspaper accounts.

Edward walked into the Academy while socialites stared and whispered, and took his seat in a box, amid the frescoed ceilings and crimson opulence of the Great Hall.

Then the curtain rose, and a 16-year-old opera singer, Adelina Patti, sang the first stanza of "God Save the Queen," reported The Inquirer. Rumors soon spread that the 18-year-old Edward was smitten with Patti, and the prince later declared that he had seen America's most beautiful women in Philadelphia.

The unforgettable night more than 146 years ago was one of only a few royal visits to the city - Queen Elizabeth II came here for the Bicentennial in 1976 - but it has remained a memorable part of Philadelphia history.

The prince's box is still known by aficionados as the Prince of Wales box - and will be occupied tonight by Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, for a gala concert to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Academy of Music.

TRH - "Their Royal Highnesses" - arrived in Philadelphia yesterday afternoon and will tour the city until tomorrow morning. They are interested in how Philadelphia is transforming neighborhoods and how its Mural Arts Program might be replicated in London. They will view murals and historic sites, while no doubt drawing attention and excitement in the city much as the earlier Prince of Wales did in the 19th century.

"There was a mania over the visit in 1860," said historian and author Andy Waskie, a Temple University professor who teaches Civil War history and languages. "The press of the day gave it extensive coverage. One newspaper said the prince was 'made to feel thoroughly at home.' "

The Inquirer described the youthful Edward in detail: "His neat figure is set off by his exquisitely fitting garments, all of which are in the highest fashion, without being 'loud' or flashy. . . . His pretty chestnut hair is worn modestly over his forehead which is sufficiently high to give an intellectual cast to his countenance."

The prince's visit to North America, the first by a member of the British royal family, drew large cheering crowds in many cities. Edward - using one of his minor titles, Baron Renfrew - began the tour in Canada, where he offered Britain's thanks for that country's help during the Crimean War.

He then came to the United States, where his monthlong itinerary included Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Washington, Richmond, Va., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Portland, Maine.

"The Prince of Wales will be the occasion of the one of the grandest galas that this city has ever seen," said a story in the Philadelphia Sunday Transcript on Oct. 7, 1860. "He is the cause of the assemblage of the rich, beautiful and illustrious who will meet in the opera house."

When the ticket office opened on Oct. 6, 300 people were waiting to buy up to the six-ticket limit. Many hawked tickets for higher prices.

But not everyone in the former colonies was happy about Edward's visit. Waskie said Irish immigrants in Philadelphia and other cities shunned the prince over British rule of their homeland.

"The Irish population didn't want to have anything to do with him," he said. "The Irish militia was excused from any military function [during the visit]. The First City Troop acted as an honor guard."

On the Sunday before the prince's Oct. 9 to 11 visit, the Transcript ran a satirical poem on the front page, taking a decidedly Irish point of view. The last lines say:

And when the throne is all your own,

at which ye're daily steerin',

wid all the care that ye can spare

remember poor ould Erin.

But Edward's time in Philadelphia went off without a hitch. He arrived at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 9 and went to the Continental Hotel on Chestnut Street, where his party had reserved 30 rooms, said The Inquirer. The recently built hotel was said to be the largest and finest in America, and the second one to have an elevator.

In the evening, the prince rolled tenpins at the Union Club at 12th and Walnut Streets.

The following day, he visited Girard College, where his hat blew off in a gust of wind, according to The Inquirer, which also covered his visits to Eastern State Penitentiary, Fairmount Park, the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane, and Point Breeze Park for the races.

The grand event that evening at the Academy was like a Hollywood premiere, with socialites - instead of today's movie stars - arriving in their finery.

"Miss Patti begins the British national anthem," said The Inquirer. "The audience hesitated for a moment what to do. Then, as if touched by electricity, everyone in the house rose to his feet and presented a spectacle that in this city, at least, was never seen before."

Edward had requested the opera Martha and that Patti sing the role of Lady Henrietta. "Miss Patti, though credible to her talent, is not at her best," said The Inquirer.

Whether the prince spent time with her while in Philadelphia seems open to question. Rumors were flying.

Edward Mauger, retired associate dean of Rutgers University in Camden and author of Philadelphia Then and Now and Philadelphia in Photographs, said Patti later sang at the Royal Albert Hall in London and was often the guest of the Prince of Wales.

Edward was involved in a scandal with "someone in the theater," though the identity of the person is not known, added Mauger. The prince "had sexual exploits that make the current one look like a monk," said Mauger.

The prince returned to the Continental and had breakfast the next morning before boarding a ferry for Camden, where he boarded a train for South Amboy. He then took a steam cutter for New York.

At one point, looking back on his brief Philadelphia visit, Edward seemed to confuse a venerable city family with an idiosyncratic food.

The prince spoke of "eating biddle for breakfast and meeting so many citizens named Scrapple," said the Daily Evening Bulletin.

Coming Sunday Expanded coverage of the royal couple's visit and the Academy of Music's anniversary bash.

Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com. To comment, or to ask a question, go to http://go.philly.com/askcolimore.