December 15, 2005
As we approach the beginning of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to revisit Franklin Court. It is very sad that none of his descendants wanted to keep the house that he shared here with his common-law wife Deborah and where his children William and Sally were raised. Given what an important inventor, politician, and statesman he was, it is hard to imagine that the city of Philadelphia didn’t step in and save the house, but it didn’t happen. All that remains today is a cistern and some foundation walls that can be viewed from the courtyard above through glass. I heard one of the park department docents telling some children that the house has never been rebuilt because they don’t know what it looked like or what it was made of. It seems almost impossible to believe that there was not one drawing from the time, say, when the mob swarmed his house because they had issues with his dealings with the British, that given all the historic broadsides that were being executed, that none of them showed his house. Also, there are plenty of his and Deborah's letters in existence, and none of them mentions, say, some brickwork being repaired, painting the exterior, or some such thing. Anyway, there is no house.
What there is is an underground museum and theater. The museum is reached by ramps, making it handicap accessible. The right-hand side of the museum has a collection of the inventions of Ben Franklin, beginning with the Franklin stove. The other side of the room has a series of portraits of the Franklin family, Ben at different ages, Deborah, and his son William and daughter Sally.
The second large room has a series of displays around the edge of the room on aspects of his career and, in the center, an audio-visual presentation about his time at the court in France. The best exhibit is the one with all the phones. You pick up a receiver, look at the wall, pick a name (like John Adams), and dial the number next to his name. You then hear a quote about Franklin from that person. There are an interesting variety of authors, from Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette and John F Kennedy and Mark Twain. I was highly entertained.
You then walk down a corridor with a time line divided into decades that tells you the major accomplishment of Ben in each of these years. The last stop is the theater, where you can watch a video narrated by David Hartman that brings the story of Ben Franklin very much to life. From his apprenticeship to his brother James in Boston to his being awarded the postmaster generalship of all the colonies, we see the man, the scientist, the statesman, and the family man. The movie is good enough to keep adults and children alike enthralled.
From journal Phive for Philly