Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Franklin Tour: Ben There, Done That

James Peniston's nine-foot bronze Franklin (2007)

 Ben Franklin's legacy saturates the city of Philadelphia. There's the bridge, the institute, the court, the square, and the stove that bear his name, plus other inventions and institutions for which he gets less credit. Did you know he invented bifocals? Swim fins? A musical instrument called the glass armonica? This man had a lot of interests, the time to pursue them, and the patience to write about them. I have the patience to write about my favorite BF sites and facts, but for a thorough study I recommend his famous autobiography. This slender tome is well worth the time--he describes his interesting life and shares his thoughts.

Franklin was a character, and my favorite story is when he talks about the virtues. He organized this group in Philadelphia called the Junto, and identified thirteen virtues that they would work on individually and then report back to the group on their progress. During one of Franklin's reports, a member pointed out that he forgot humility. Franklin retorted that humility was not a virtue he could boast about. Slippery stuff, that humility; if you claim you have it, you probably don't.

Franklin Court
Ben Franklin wasn't born in Philadelphia. He came from Boston as a young man, seeking refuge from a really bad printer's apprentice situation with his brother. He learned the trade, though, and started his own shop in Philadelphia. Franklin Court, on Market Street between 3rd and 4th Streets, is open every day and shows what Franklin's shop looked like along with his post office (which still functions as a U.S. Post Office). Behind the shops is a white steel-frame of what historians think Franklin's house was shaped like, and underground there is a museum showing Franklins's multifaceted life as a printer, inventor, writer, and diplomat. (At this writing, the museum is closed for renovation.)

Pennsylvania Hospital
Franklin created, planned, or helped organize many of the Philadelphia institutions of his time: Pennsylvania Hospital, the Library Company, the American Philosophical Company, Philadelphia Union Fire Company, and he spearheaded fundraising efforts for the Christ Church steeple. He spent 1757 to 1775 in England as a diplomat representing Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Massachusetts, but left when he got fed up with corruption there. From 1776 through 1783, he lived in Paris where he was involved in working out the Treaty of Alliance and the Treaty of Paris. On top of all this, he was an elder statesman immersed in planning for our new country back home in Philadelphia.

So many things are named for him in this region that those of us from here don't always notice!  Philadelphia's tree- and museum-lined boulevard modeled after Paris's Champs-Elysées and leading up to the Museum of Art's Rocky steps is called the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. One of Philadelphia's five original squares, the northeast one, is named for Franklin and has a great view of the iconic Lightning Bolt statue (1984) commemorating Franklin's famous electricity experiment with a key, a kite, and a lightning bolt. Just beyond is the two-mile-long Benjamin Franklin Bridge connecting Philadelphia with Camden, New Jersey.
The Lightning Bolt (Isamu Noguchi) with the Ben Franklin Bridge behind

The Franklin Institute at Logan Circle is a premier science museum with awesome interactive exhibits and an IMAX theater. Kids around the region still talk about the Giant Heart exhibit that people can walk through, and it opened in 1954!
A common sight: school buses parked in front of the Franklin Institute.
Franklin, his wife Deborah, and his son Francis, are buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground at 5th and Arch Streets. Theirs are the graves with the pennies on them, tossed for good luck by visitors.

BTW, thanks to Brian Johnstone for this post's clever subtitle!

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