From Philly and the Pa. suburbs to South Jersey and Delaware, what would you like WHYY News to cover? Let us know!
Shiny black loafers clicked on Old City’s stone streets, the polished brass buckles gleaming in the mid-morning sun.
Those footsteps are 17-year-old Benjamin Franklin’s first steps into Philadelphia.
Not the actual Franklin, of course. The American Philosophical Society and partner organizations hired actors to honor the 300th anniversary of Franklin’s first day in Philadelphia on Oct. 6, 1723.
In a commemorative ceremony Friday morning, crowds of present-day Philadelphians followed the young Franklin, who donned a burgundy 18th-century working suit, from the Independence Seaport Museum to the lawn at the Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery.
As he meandered through the city, young Ben stopped and locked eyes with a young Deborah Read in a white bonnet, moments after he disembarked off the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing.
Experts say that was a pivotal encounter.
“It’s a nice way to think about the moment that Franklin first becomes a Philadelphian. Within the first few minutes, he’s associating [his arrival] with … the woman in his life,” says Brenna Holland, assistant director of library operations at the American Philosophical Society.
The event, “300 Years of Franklin in Philadelphia,” was presented by APS and partner organizations, which included The Library Company of Philadelphia, Independence Seaport Museum, the Carpenters’ Company, Christ Church, Historic Philadelphia, Inc., Independence Historical Trust, Independence National Historic Park, King & Cabouli Direct Marketing, Inc., and High Street Philly.
The Philadelphia Boys Choir kicked off the commemoration on the steps of the Second Bank of America, followed by key speakers such as Michael Barsanti, Library Company of Philadelphia; Michael Norris, Carpenters’ Hall; state Rep. Mary Isaacsons; Philadelphia City Councilmember Mark Squilla; General Wesley Craig, Retired Adjutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard; and Gov. Josh Shapiro’s representative Anthony Luker, the Director of the governor’s Southeast regional office.
Among Franklin’s many achievements was his impact on Philadelphia and ideas about government, which state Rep. Mary Isaacson highlighted in her speech.
“I happen to have the great honor of sitting in speaker Franklin’s seat in the Pennsylvania state House,” Isaacson said, followed by applause. “When I am walking through the halls of Harrisburg, [I] remind myself often of what he brought to this commonwealth in his beliefs of what government should be, how it should assist us and protect us.”
The date of Franklin’s arrival to Philadelphia, Oct. 6, 1723, was discovered by the late scholar Claude-Ann Lopez, who was working on the Benjamin Franklin Papers project at Yale University in the 1980s.
Some 30 years ago, she spotted an annotation scribbled in brown ink on the back of the letter from Franklin’s banker. It looks like an itinerary.
“Sunday, 6 — Philadelphia.”
Visitors had a chance to see this letter in-person after the procession. For historians and Franklin enthusiasts alike, the day is one to remember.
“It’s special that we can know that with specificity and celebrate it and have a little fun with Franklin,” Holland said.
Oct. 6, 2023 marks the 300th year, to the day, when the founding father we know as the inventor, philosopher and, later in life, abolitionist, Ben Franklin landed here, in Philadelphia.
For those who missed the event, the APS has announced a second Franklin celebration Oct. 18 — the launch of their Franklin Ledger’s project. The staff have digitized and transcribed all of Benjamin Franklin’s ledgers, postal and account books at the American Philosophical Society, which contains roughly 70% of Franklin’s letters, books and more.
They have created an open data project for visitors to discover the world of Franklin’s business and see who he was interacting with.
Saturdays just got more interesting.