Rowland, 7 and his sister, Emma, 9, of Havertown,
Pennsylvania, test out one of the interactive
exhibits in the newly revitalized Benjamin Franklin
Museum in Franklin Court in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, Tuesday, August 20, 2013.
— Setting Ben Franklin loose in the new Philadelphia
museum dedicated to his accomplishments would be as
electric as giving him another kite to fly during a
lightning storm. He would get a charge out of it.
Benjamin Franklin Museum’s techno gadgets and virtual
presentations bring visitors up to speed on one of
Philadelphia’s most famous residents in a style that
would wow Franklin himself.
from room to room of the underground museum in Franklin
Court, he could tap plenty of touch screens, chuckle along
with the animated and amusing film segments told in his
own voice and play matching games about his life.
the museum is much more than techno-thrills of playing
"Yankee Doodle Dandy" on a virtual armonica (a
musical instrument Franklin invented) or seeing your name
appear on a computer screen, upside-down and backward in
an old-style type, as if Franklin hand-set it for you
during his days at a printer.
new museum is a total "re-imagining" of the
former Underground Museum built in 1976. It was two years
in the making, with funding from the National Park
Service, charitable organizations, Pennsylvania and
visits all aspects of Franklin’s life (citizen, printer,
inventor, author, statesman and philosopher), surveys his
accomplishments and sums them up in a style that’s
engaging and easy to understand.
far from Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the
President’s House and other Independence National
Historic Park sites, the new highlight of Franklin Court
is well worth a visit.
museum, which opened Aug. 24, corrects common
misconceptions. Franklin did not discover electricity, as
many people think. However, he invented the lightning rod
and discovered the importance of grounding it.
Internationally known for additional work with
electricity, he also invented the way to store electricity
and called it a "battery."
he never was president of the United States, he served as
"president" of Pennsylvania in the days before
governors took charge.
find fascinating stories about Franklin’s always-on
brain that was churning with ideas and inventions to
improve daily life. When he identified a problem, he found
a solution. He was having difficulty with his vision.
Eureka! He created bifocals. Houses in the 1700s were
smoky and cold. Eureka again! He created the Franklin
stove. He couldn’t reach books on the top shelves in his
library. He created a long-handled reacher. You get the
cartoon-like clips offer humorous and interesting
anecdotes drawn from Franklin’s letters and are told in
you know Franklin flew a kite for a totally different
experiment? While swimming, he used one to harness the
wind and effortlessly cross a mile-wide pond. He also
created the first swim fins and hand-paddles, which he
noted were awkward but did help him swim faster.
by whirlwinds (mini tornadoes), Franklin rode his horse in
pursuit of one for nearly three-quarters of a mile. He
stopped only because he feared he or his horse would be
hurt by the branches and debris spewing from it.
museum even incorporates Franklin’s love of gray
squirrels, which were called "skuggs" in
colonial times. Visitors will meet Skuggs, a "tour
guide" whose image is used to direct parents and
children along "paths" to family activities
throughout the museum.
museum is for visitors from 3 to 103," says curator
Page Talbott. "We want them to come away, not feeling
as if they have been taught, but as if they’ve just had
an engaging encounter with Franklin and have come to know
highlights of the museum’s 45-item artifact collection:
A family Bible that Franklin bought for his daughter; a
mastodon tooth fossil from Franklin’s collection; a
sedan chair used to transport him to the Constitutional
Convention (the convention’s oldest member, Franklin
suffered terrible pain from gout) and a glass generator
Franklin designed and used for his electrical experiments.
the pieces are small, Franklin’s chess set is one of the
artifacts that looms large in his life. He observed,
"Life is a kind of chess," and claimed playing
the game made him a better representative for the
colonists and diplomat for the United States. Why? He said
it honed his skills to think strategically, anticipate
moves during negotiations and check himself from making
rash decisions. An observer wrote: "His passion for
late-night chess games was checked only by his supplies of
museum steers away from a heavy time-lined approach to
telling Franklin’s story. Instead, you’ll learn of his
times and accomplishments as they exemplify his most
outstanding character traits including "ardent and
dutiful," "ambitious and rebellious,"
"motivated to improve," "curious and full
of wonder" and "strategic and persuasive."
one-story museum’s main entrance and gift shop are on
the west side of Franklin Court and next to the
"ghost house" structures representing Franklin’s
home and print shop. (His Philadelphia home was demolished
in 1812.) But the heart of the museum is underground and
arranged to suggest different rooms of Franklin’s house.
how to tell Franklin’s story was difficult, according to
Cynthia McLeod, superintendent of Independence National
Historical Park. Trying to quantify Franklin’s
greatness, McLeod struggled to find one modern figure
whose qualities could match Franklin’s. "The best I
could do was create a composite from the best of Steve
Jobs, Bill Clinton, Henry Kissinger, Ted Turner, Katherine
Graham, Jon Stewart …" Her voice trails off.
displays show Franklin lived the advice he gave,
including, "Be frugal and industrious and you will be
free." He mastered the printing trade, lived on a
tight budget in his early days and chose a healthier,
less-expensive diet to become a stronger, more productive
worker. It all paid off. He retired at 42. Although he
told his mother, "I’d rather be useful than
rich," he was both.
in the rest of the rooms and their contents exemplifies
another of his sage sayings: "If you don’t want to
be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either
write things worth reading or do things worth the
McLeod, "It’s amazing to realize a man born 307
years ago could be so recognized and relevant today."
there’s one place in the museum that could leave his
admirers in a quandary about following his advice. Would
it be smarter to save the money, or spend the money for
one of the gift shop’s piggy banks, emblazoned with:
"A penny saved is a penny earned"?
re-do of the former Underground Museum at Franklin Court
features artifacts, computer animation and interactive
displays about the life, character and legacy of Benjamin
316-318 Market St., within Franklin Court at Independence
National Historical Park, Philadelphia. Entrance is from
Market or Chestnut streets, between Third and Fourth
9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
much: $5; $2 for children
1: Tickets are timed; there are a limited number of
tickets available each day. Last entrance to the museum
will be at 4:15 p.m.
2: Families should check out the museum’s Family Fun
Guide starring Skuggs the Squirrel.
3: Allow extra time to see the "ghost house" in
Franklin Court marking the site of his former home and
tour nearby attractions including 1700s print shop and