Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia

Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia

Sally Moore

BEN FRANKLIN’S Philadelphia

In the darkened circle of a ghostlyrotunda, a hushed audience looks up at a 20-foot marble statue of Ben Franklin. Above the statue’s head, a kite flutters erratically, and an impending storm rumbles. Suddenly, lightning flashes, and the crowd gasps as a charge speeds down the kite’s string to the statue, now transformed. The statue speaks, and we hear from the man “born out of time”–the statesman, diplomat, scientist, inventor, writer, and editor.

This miracle of the computer age isthe new sound-and-light show at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Bringing Franklin to life is the first step in re-creating his world–a world considerably more in the public eye during this year’s bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. It is the ideal time to visit the city were the printer’s apprentice came as a runaway in 1723 and died a world-renowned figure in 1790.

“Look Before, or You’ll

Find Yourself Behind”

Today’s Philadelphia bears littleresemblance to the 18th-century town, but the Old City area, remarkably compact, invites leisurely strolls among the surviving historic structures. Before embarking on a tour of Independence National Historical Park (INHP) and all the exhibits mounted during “We the People 200,” one should heed the the Franklin Institute’s “Poor Richard,” who enjoins visitors to “look before, or you’ll find yourself behind.” Your first stop should be the INHP Visitor Center in central Philadelphia to pick up maps and brochures and to visit a computer exhibit where you can test your knowledge of the Constitution and its history.

“Make Haste Slowly”

-so allot plenty of time to see theFranklin sites and the park’s other attractions. For help in getting about, there are several guide services, or for a self-guided excursion, you can rent a lightweight tape deck, tour cassette, and map from AudioWalk & Tour, located in the Norman Rockwell Museum in the newly renovated Curtis Center at 6th and Walnut streets. While you’re there, look for the museum’s collection of Rockwell covers created for the Post between 1916 and 1963. Such old favorites as “The Gossips” and “The Swimming Hole” take long-time Post readers back to other places, other days. (Forgive the clutter–the museum will soon be moving to new quarters in the building, which housed the Curtis Publishing Company for so long.)

“An Old Man in a House

Is A Good Sign”

In nearby Independence Park,you’ll find Franklin’s later years remembered at Franklin in Court, the site of the handsome brick home where Ben lived while serving in the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. Today only a “ghost structure” of steel beams outlines where the house and Franklin’s grandson Benjamin Bache’s print shop stood, because so little was known about the original, long-demolished structure. Beneath the house site, an underground museum portrays the life of the multifaceted Franklin with a film, miniature tableaux of famous episodes in his life, some of his scientific instruments, and several pieces of furniture from the house.

At one side of the Franklin Courtgardens, Franklin’s Market Street houses have been restored on the exterior and adapted inside to house a commemorative operating post office, postal museum, and archaeological exhibit. In an adjoining restored building, rangers in period costume give daily demonstrations of 18th-century printing, the trade followed by both Franklin and his grandson. Near these homes in 1729, Franklin began publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette, the predecessor of The Saturday Evening Post.

At Independence Hall, the rangerconducting the tour can show you where the Pennsylvania delegates to the Constitutional Convention sat and the chair where Franklin is thought to have spent so many hours.

Franklin is also prominent in the”Miracle at Philadelphia” exhibit at the Second National Bank downtown. Here you can pick up a “delegate’s badge” and journey through history. You’ll meet the men who forged the Constitution, hear the sounds of the debates, and sign a copy of the document next to one that was Franklin’s personal copy.

“A Traveller Should Have…a

Deer’s Legs and an Ass’s Back”

Through the summer and fall,many special bicentennial events are scheduled throughout the city, and a number of museums have mounted special exhibits. The culmination of the celebration will be September 17, when the Grand Federal Procession will be staged, involving what is touted as being “the largest parade ever mounted in the U.S.A.”

“Hunger Is the Best Pickle”

After your search for Franklin,you’ll be happy to learn that near the Old City you can assuage your appetite in any of a variety of restaurants with cuisine ranging from superb to simple. The Old Original Bookbinder’s Restaurant serves up such Philadelphia seafood specialties as snapper soup and fried oysters with chicken salad. At City Tavern, frequented by Franklin and other convention delegates, you can dine in 18th-century style, cosseted by costumed lackeys.

Philadelphia has many fine hotels,although rooms in and near the historic district are limited and bound to be heavily booked this year. New, slick, and very convenient, the Sheraton Society Hill is poised on the edge of Penn’s Landing, Society Hill, and the park. The Holiday Inn-Independence Mall is at 4th and Arch, and the Society Hill Hotel on Chestnut is a small “European-style” bed and breakfast.

The genius of Franklin manifesteditself in many ways, but neither he nor any scientist since his time has invented a time-travel machine. Like Franklin, we must use our imagination–drawing on history to re-create the past.

COPYRIGHT 1987 Saturday Evening Post Society

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group