Ben Franklin is alive and well in Philadelphia
Former park ranger Shecky Perlman now a Franklin re-enactor
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. historicphiladelphia.com.
Don’t tell Ben Franklin or Rocky that neither now exists.
Ben Franklin/Shecky Perlman hangs out at Independence Mall.