By Terry Gardner, Special to Tribune Newspapers
10:08 PM EDT, October 22, 2013
PHILADELPHIA — Benjamin Franklin was a statesman, scholar and scientist, and the newly reopened Benjamin Franklin Museum clues visitors in on the personality traits that led to all that.
"Since we don't often see Ben Franklin as an ordinary man, we chose to emphasize his character traits to help people understand what led to his life accomplishments," said Page Talbott, whose firm, Remer & Talbott, served as curators for the updated museum. "Visitors can see an artifact, watch a video and then do an interactive. No matter your age, you can get to know Franklin."
Closed for two years, the museum was built in 1976 on the grounds of the Franklin family residence. That house was torn down in 1813.
It might just be that Franklin had to fight simply to be recognized within his own family. Born in 1706 in Boston, he was the 10th of 17 children, and he definitely didn't fall into line. I was surprised to learn that Franklin began his storied career in Philadelphia as a runaway apprentice from Boston. Running away from an apprenticeship was a crime in 1723.
An interactive exhibit, "Seeking Opportunity," explains the 17-year-old Franklin's journey from Boston to New York to Philadelphia, presenting the user with the same kind of choices he had to make. And as we learn, travel wasn't easy in 1723. On my first attempt with the exhibit, I chose the wrong ship and wound up enslaved on a coffee plantation in the Bahamas.
Franklin was transfixed by electricity and through much experimentation invented the lightning rod. In the museum, an animated display shows the impact of a lightning rod used to ground a house versus a house left ungrounded. The ungrounded house blows up when lightning strikes.
That, and the entire museum, are electrifying.
The National Park Service operates the museum as part of Independence National Historical Park. Go to tinyurl.com/franklinmuseum for ticket information.
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