Ben Franklin is alive and well in Philadel­phia

For­mer park ranger Shecky Perl­man now a Franklin re-en­ac­tor

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - Bill Ret­tew Small Talk

If you could meet any­body, who would it be?

I’d like to share a beer with Van Gogh, Christ, Dy­lan, Hunter S. Thomp­son, or even Hitler.

I’d also like to chat with Ben Franklin.

And, I sorta, kinda got a chance to re­cently visit with Ben, in the shade of In­de­pen­dence Hall, where he did some of his finest work.

Re­tired af­ter a quar­ter cen­tury as a United States Park Ranger, Shecky Perl­man/Ben Franklin was dressed just as you’d ex­pect.

Yes, the glasses are pre­scrip­tion and the cane is just a prop — but with a lit­tle bit of imag­i­na­tion — the viewer is trans­ported back in to the 1700s.

Dur­ing my visit with Franklin, Perl­man eas­ily shifted in and out of char­ac­ter.

We walked to­gether a cou­ple of city blocks along In­de­pen­dence Mall. The mo­ment was mag­i­cal. Dozens of vis­i­tors po­litely asked Franklin if he’d pose for a photo.

Perl­man/Franklin smiled when con­fid­ing in me that he had lit­tle use for the cell­phone cam­era, in part, be­cause he did not in­vent it.

“I’m not into the hitech stuff,” Franklin said.

Franklin did in­vent and start much: the first fire com­pany, in­sur­ance com­pany, li­brary for the com­mon man, hos­pi­tal, univer­sity, and post of­fice. He in­vented the odome­ter, light­ning rod, swim flip­pers, bi­fo­cals, an im­proved street light and sev­eral mu­si­cal in­stru­ments.

While Franklin lived from 1706-1790, Perl­man/Franklin was a lit­tle play­ful.

“Ru­mors of my death seem to be pre­ma­ture,” Franklin said. “I don’t feel a day over 300.”

Franklin is buried at Christ Church Burial Ground, at Fifth and Arch streets.

Although Ben was a “penny saved and a penny earned” kind of guy, I find it ironic that $4,000 to $7,000 a year in change is thrown for good luck onto his grave.

“It’s a won­der­ful thing that the church col­lects the money and puts it to good use — for the ben­e­fit of the city,” Perl­man said. “I see noth­ing wrong with it.”

Perl­man is also a John Adams re-en­ac­tor.

“When I’m dressed as John Adams there’s not much dif­fer­ence in my look — put a bow in my hair,” Perl­man said. “Any­time some­one’s in Colo­nial cos­tume, if it’s a man, it’s Ben, for a woman, Betsy Ross.”

So how does the public re­late when meet­ing a found­ing fa­ther?

“They see me as a char­ac­ter,” Perl­man said. “When I try to talk, I try to be Ben Franklin.

“I try to stay in first per­son. Most peo­ple ad­dress me as a mod­ern char­ac­ter, all dressed up.”

But you’d bet­ter show the proper re­spect.

“At first I didn’t mind peo­ple say­ing, ‘Hey Ben, what’s shak­ing?’” he said. “Try to ad­dress me as Dr. Franklin. Try to stay away from mod­ern lingo.

“Dr. Franklin was very im­por­tant to the found­ing of this na­tion and his legacy is still with us. Dr. Franklin de­serves re­spect from this gen­er­a­tion as well as his own.”

Mod­ern-day his­to­ri­ans say that Franklin nearly elec­tro­cuted him­self sev­eral times.

Franklin: “I al­most did one time when try­ing to cook a turkey. Dur­ing an ex­per­i­ment, bolts of elec­tric­ity were a lit­tle too pow­er­ful. It knocked me out for about five min­utes.”

Dur­ing this, Franklin’s first mod­ern-day in­ter­view, the very first to ap­pear on the in­ter­net, the good doc­tor set the record straight con­cern­ing that ex­per­i­ment with the kite and key in the rain.

Did he fly that kite on his own?

“My son flew the kite while I stood un­der a shed tak­ing notes,” said the once-cau­tious Franklin. “When I saw my son was okay, I touched the key with my knuckle.”

Perl­man worked for 25 years as an In­de­pen­dence Na­tional His­toric Park ranger. He gave tours at the Lib­erty Bell, Franklin Court, the Mil­i­tary Mu­seum and the Sec­ond Bank.

The his­to­rian earned both un­der­grad and master’s de­grees in Amer­i­can his­tory from Tem­ple Univer­sity.

“Ever since I could read, all I read about were bi­ogra­phies of fa­mous Amer­i­cans,” Perl­man said. “Read­ing about peo­ple who lived is bet­ter than read­ing about some­thing some­body made up.”

At first, Perl­man was a John Adams re-en­ac­tor.

“The more I read about John, the more I felt like I was read­ing about my­self,” he said. “Our per­son­al­i­ties seemed very sim­i­lar.

“John Adams was ob­nox­ious, sus­pected and un­pop­u­lar — that’s me to a T.”

Look­ing back to the Con­sti­tu­tion

and this grand ex­per­i­ment called democ­racy, how does Dr. Franklin feel to­day?

Franklin: “It’s not the best of all gov­ern­ments, but a good start. As long as it’s lasted it’s proven it­self. Not any­one is 100 per­cent sat­is­fied, but it’s the best we could come up with.”

Franklin cer­tainly changed the world. It’s great to see that he’s still walk­ing around and doesn’t need that cane, although he does wear those trade­mark pre­scrip­tion glasses. Long live Ben! Franklin/Perl­man some­times

par­tic­i­pates dur­ing In­de­pen­dence Af­ter Hours, held at In­de­pen­dence Hall and City Tav­ern, by His­toric Philadel­phia. Franklin and John Adams par­tic­i­pate, with a per­for­mance by Tom Jef­fer­son. For more in­for­ma­tion, go to www. his­toricphiladel­


Don’t tell Ben Franklin or Rocky that nei­ther now ex­ists.


Ben Franklin/Shecky Perl­man hangs out at In­de­pen­dence Mall.

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