Ben Franklin’s 300th Birthday Bash
We Owe It to Franklin

Discoveries: daylight savings time, electricity, the Gulf Stream, political cartoons, vitamin C.

Institutions started: The University of Pennsylvania, American Philosophical Society, Pennsylvania Hospital.

Inventions: bifocals, catheter, Franklin stove, glass armonica, lightning rod, odometer.

Services established: street lighting, paving, post office, fire company, insurance, public library.

by Mary Ann Carrado

An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest,” said Benjamin Franklin, considered by many to be America’s favorite overachiever.

Now is your chance to learn all about this great man. The 300th anniversary of Ben’s birth is Jan. 17, 2006, and the party can’t wait. Celebrations will be in full swing next month, and while Franklin’s life will be hailed from as far away as London and Paris, there is no better place to be for the bash than in his adopted hometown of Philadelphia.

“This is an exciting time because Benjamin Franklin is so relevant to our lives today,” says Rosalind Remer, executive director of the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, “It is a great way to reintroduce him to the 21st century.” From bifocals to the odometer, Franklin has certainly contributed to our modern life. “There is almost nothing he wasn’t involved in, invented or improved,” Remer says.

Through the many events, parents can introduce their children to this great man and participate in fun family activities. “This is totally family oriented,” Remer says.

Major Exhibition
One of the highlights of the celebration will be the major traveling exhibition, “Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World,” which opens at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Dec. 15, before traveling the globe. “It’s the one thing you don’t want to miss,” Remer advises families.

The exhibition will feature more than 8,000 square feet of interactive activities that immerse visitors into Franklin’s world. “Activities are geared toward different age groups,” Dr Remer says. “And it is not isolating. The activities are designed so people can come along and join in.”

Among the offerings include a 25-foot model ship that beckons visitors to climb aboard and experience Franklin’s method of charting the gulf stream, as well as more than 250 artifacts gathered from museums and private collectors around the world. Kids can even try out quirky inventions such as a chair with a foot-pedaled fan that was used to cool its owners.

The exhibit mascot, Skuggs the Squirrel will be available to guide even the youngest visitors through the many activitIes. “Franklin loved squirrels,” Remer explains. “He would often give them as gifts to friends living in Europe.” Skuggs was the affectionate name given to squirrels during Franklin’s lifetime.

Educational Materials
Tied in to the central themes of the exhibition will be school curriculum programs and materials distributed to teachers.

Available through the Tercentenary website and on CD-Rom, the materials are designed to stand on their own without a visit to the exhibition. “We are trying to teach Franklin in an interdisciplinary manner, so we can tap into everything — language arts, history or math,” says Dana Devon, director of Educational Programs at the Tercentenary.

“If I had to pick two key things kids could take away from studying Franklin, one would be the importance of public service and his sensibility of generosity,” Devon says. “Kids can take away how the impact of the individual, specifically working together with others, can have an impact on the community.”

Devon says the second thing kids can learn is that “Franklin had a very active and open-minded manner. He would never hesitate to listen; he never lost his sense of active curiosity.” Devon suggests that parents and kids can become better people by emulating these traits of Franklin. “He had the innate ability, but it is something we could cultivate,” she says.

Devon hopes to bring greater understanding of Franklin to the rest of the country. “By the end of October (2006), we will do our best to reach across the nation,” she says. Plans for an online version of “Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World,” are currently in the works.

“Come and see the exhibition,” Devon says. “I think both parents and children will leave inspired.”

Mary Ann Carrado is a local freelance writer.

Ben Tercentennial Events
Many fun and educational events are planned to mark Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday.

Open Now
Ben & Me: Keeping an American Hero’s Legacy Alive Today
National Liberty Museum, 321 Chestnut St., Phila. See a private collection of artifacts illustrating Franklin’s notions about good character and virtue. The event includes tours, an essay contest, materials for school groups and a free family craft activity each weekend. $5 Adults, $3 students, $1 Children Age 5 & older. 215-925-2800, www.libertymuseum.org

Ben Franklin’s Ghost Daily PECO Energy Liberty Center, 6th & Chestnut Sts., Phila. Through this exhibit, visitors use a touch screen computer to ask questions and hold a conversation with Ben, who appears on a large screen as a “Pepper’s Ghost.” The technology used is a “world’s first.” Through Jan. 1, 2006, Free.
www.lightsofliberty.org

The Constitutional Walking Tour: Franklin’s Firsts and Facts Weekend Guided Tours National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St., Phila. Follow in Ben’s footsteps through historic Philadelphia on this gentle guided tour that is appropriate for the entire family. Walk through history where the “Declaration of Independence” and the “United States Constitution” were created. Through Sept. 4, 2006, $15 Adults; $12.50 Children. 215-525-1776,
www.theconstitutional.com

Franklin Court Underground Museum Market St. btwn. 3rd & 4th Sts., Phila.
• Fragments of Franklin Court — Go treasure hunting in Independence National Park and discover the artifacts that were found in the Franklin Court Complex. Follow the clues left behind, from delicate tea cups to chamber pots.
• Franklin’s Hand on History — Hands-on, 20-minute activities with a park ranger, from math puzzles to playing the glass armonica. Through 2006. Wed.-Sun. Free
800-537-7676,
www.nps.gov/inde/Franklin_Court

Franklin... He’s Electric The Franklin Institute Science Museum, 222 N. 20th St., Phila. The Franklin Institute offers this
permanent hands-on exhibit to celebrate Ben’s far-reaching scientific legacy. Find out how Franklin inspired other great inventors, from Thomas Edison to the Wright Brothers.
Also at the Franklin Institute, The Curiosity Show in Electricity Hall, features daily reenactments of some of Ben’s most famous experiments. Through Jan. 1, 2008. 215-448-1175, www.fi.edu

Franklin’s Fabulous Friends Family & Foes Old Christ Church, 5th & Arch Sts., Phila. Celebrate Ben’s birthday with a 20-minute walking tour that starts at his burial ground and winds its way through life in early Philadelphia, 1730-1790, recounted by Ben’s friends, family and foes. $2 Adults, $1 Students, $10 any size group. 215-922-1695, www.oldchristchurch.org

Franklin’s Legacy of Public Service: Elizabeth Duane Gillespie Atwater Kent Museum, 15 S. 7th St, Phila. This exhibit focuses on the life & achievements of Franklin’s great-grandaughter. Wed.-Sun., 1-5pm, $5 Adults, $3 Ages 13-17, Free Ages 12 & under.
215-685-4830,
www.philadelphiahistory.org

Franklin’s National Icon: Talons or Gobbles The Academy of Natural Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., Phila. Visitors can decide which should be our national bird, the North American wild turkey, as Franklin wanted, or the American bald eagle, which won the title. See two mounted wild turkeys and a bronze sculpture illustrating both birds’ qualities. 215-299-1000, www.acnatsci.org

Shaping Franklin Stenton, 4601 N. 18th St, Phila. At the home of Franklin’s friend and mentor, James Logan, learn about the relationship between two Colonial Philadelphians of different generations. Tues.-Sat., 1-4pm and by appointment. $5 Adults, $4 Students & groups.
215-329-7312, www.stenton.org

Coming Attractions
Ben Franklin: Unplugged Plays & Players Theater, 1714 Delancey St., Phila. Follow Josh Kornbluth in this funny monologue, as he sets off on a wild journey to Franklin. This play is based on actual historic findings and promises lots of modern laughs. Jan. 10-22, 2006, $15-$45. 215-985-1400 , ext. 102,
www.phillytheatreco.com

Franklin’s Flippers Adventure Aquarium, 1 Riverside Dr., Camden, NJ. Did you know that Ben invented swim paddles and slippers? Meet Aquarium divers and try on replicas of early swim fins as you trace the history of diving apparatus. Dec. 1 through Aug. 31, 2006, $16.95 Adults, $13.95 ages 2-12.
856-365-3300, ext. 7363, www.adventureaquarium.com

Kimmel Center Presents: A Colonial Holiday Concert for Children Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 260 S. Broad St., Phila. Travel back in time to colonial life with this seasonal concert that combines Early American History and Franklin-period music. Hear Franklin talk about his Glass Armonica and witness the Battle of Trenton through music and visuals. Dec. 9, $10. 215-790-5896
www.kimmelcenter.org/education

Other great Franklin events are planned. For updates, visit www.gophila.com/ben and www.benfranklin300.org