In the historically rich city of Philadelphia, 2006 is quite a big deal. Why, you ask? No, it’s not another Y2K-esque threat and Prince never turned this year into a hit single. It’s the year that marks the 300th birthday of the famous Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin.
It seems physically impossible to turn a corner without running into a large birthday announcement. Billboards on I-95 inform travelers that Philadelphia is, in fact, amid a giant yearlong birthday party. An array of walking tours following Ben’s steps are available throughout the city. Some local bars have even caught Ben fever, offering drinks with themed names – try a “Ben-tini” at Cafe Rustica, or a “Franklin Mint” at Haru.
Most students are familiar with Ben, reading about him year after year in textbooks. But the real question remains: Do students really care about Franklin, or are they using his birthday as just another reason to party?
“‘[Ben is] “the ultimate Philadelphian,” junior Sarah Micklow said.
Franklin took part in writing both the Constitution of the United States, as well as the Declaration of Independence. Many historians believe that no other individual was as involved in the founding of the United States. Franklin may have played a prominent role in the country’s beginning, but many students don’t even know which document he signed.
When asked which document Franklin signed, junior Anita Sanger simply said, “I don’t know. Sad, isn’t it?” She admits that if she was never asked she would probably never even be curious enough to find out because she finds history to be boring.
Junior Marc Bodinger knows Ben Franklin mainly by monetary value.
“He’s on the $100 bill,” Bodinger said.
When it comes to cash, Franklin’s face is the most desired. But when asked about Franklin’s political involvement, Bodinger had little to say about his accomplishments, suggesting that maybe it would be a better idea to research Franklin first.
Senior Sara Minor said that Philadelphia is emphasizing the fun aspect of Ben’s birthday and is forgetting to keep the educational aspect up to speed.
“I think that Philly is obsessed with Franklin’s celebrity status and doesn’t necessarily stress what he actually contributed to the formation of these documents,” Minor said.
Senior Donna Crowell admits that if it weren’t for a night out she probably still wouldn’t know anything about the city’s Franklin birthday celebration.
“I went to McGillan’s bar and they had all these signs that said ‘Happy 300th Ben’ and I thought it was kind of weird,” Crowell said.
Crowell was also unsure about his exact political involvement. She said that Franklin must have indirectly affected politics in some way, but wasn’t sure exactly how.
Junior and self proclaimed history buff Dave Hausler rattled off several facts about Franklin’s life. He knew that Franklin worked as a printer and was also an inventor and politician, a fact ignored by every other student interviewed.
“People in general have no interest in learning about the past, no matter [how] pertinent it may be to the future,” Hausler said. Freshman Jocelyn Miller agreed. “Most students our age are more concerned with modern day events rather than past events,” Miller said.
To many, Benjamin Franklin is simply “that guy.” Franklin is the man we see when dealing with money and while driving to New Jersey.
Junior Calvin Tesler summed it up:
“He did something with lightning, right?” Tesler said. “Well, to me he’s just a fat man on the face of the $100 bill.”
Jessica Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.