By Alan Earls
Franklin is named for Ben and even has a statue of him in front of its library. And most know that his gift of books helped launch the library, the first to be free, public, and a lending library. But beyond that, few are very well acquainted with the man who must surely be the most accomplished and remarkable in the nation’s history.
For those listening and those actually reading aloud at the Ben Franklin Autobiography “Readathon” held on Ben Franklin’s birthday, Jan. 17, at the Franklin Historical Museum, there were many ‘ah ha’ moments. First of all, there was a Ben’s humor that came through from his lively, anecdotal writings. From youthful pranks and rags-to-riches adventures as a printer and businessman to his temporary appointment to lead a small army in defense of Pennsylvania’s frontier, page after page produced fresh surprises. And the book barely touches on his most famous years as a diplomat and godfather of America’s founding documents.
Still, there was plenty to digest in the pages he left behind.
Although Franklin did have the intention of writing an autobiography, the project was still just a collection of somewhat disjointed manuscripts when he died. As a result, a number of versions of the book exist, some with odd bits of Franklin’s writing added to the primary manuscript, long after the book was first published in the 1790s.
Congressman Jake Auchincloss, the reader who started the morning, enthused that the book is one of the great classics of American politics. He was followed as a reader by State Senator Becca Rausch and State Rep. Jeff Roy.
A dozen or so readers kept up the pace for approximately seven hours. They included Town Administrator Jamie Hellen and Fire Chief James McLaughlin, who, serendipitously, had a chance to read Franklin’s description of how he organized and launched the first volunteer fire fighting company in the colonies.
The reading was the cornerstone event of the Ben Franklin Book Week, a connected serious of talks, lectures, demonstrations, and even a trivia contest, all intended to bring alive the town’s namesake in ways both entertaining and informative.