Laying the underground work for new Franklin museum

    The underground exhibit space beneath Franklin Court in Old City will be closed for renovation for about two years.

    The cavernous museum has long been outdated.

    On the main floor of the exhibit devoted to Ben Franklin, deep underground, is a grid of 59 telephones. Actually, there are only 16 phones, the rest are missing.

    Alisa Coulton of Willow Grove was using one recently to call Ralph Waldo Emerson.

    “At first I didn’t know you could use the phones. When I saw the numbers on the wall I thought, ‘Oh! Cool!'” she said.

    In answer to her call, a voice intones, “Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is unique.”

    Asked what the noted transcendentalist had to say, Coulton replied, “I have no clue.”

    The exhibit was state-of-the-art, circa 1976. It’s beneath the Ghost House, an assembly of white steel beams that re-create the outline of Franklin’s house. Considered a masterpiece of the architecture of memory, the Ghost House will stay in place as the underground space is renovated.

    Patricia Jones, the chief of interpretation for Independence Park, says the new exhibits to explore Franklin’s diplomatic and scientific life will be state-of-the-art, circa now.

    “We’re actually re-creating on computer the ability to play the glass armonica, but you can play it on the computer versus having to have somebody demonstrate it for you,” she said. “We decided we’re going to create a computer-generated version of it as well.”

    The designs are in place, but the construction contracts are still out for bids. The new museum is expected to open in 2013.

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