Birthday bash honors Ben

Pennsylvania institute holds symposium to honor Franklin County's namesake

Pennsylvania institute holds symposium to honor Franklin County's namesake

June 18, 2009|By CHRIS COPLEY

With guns, games, books and concerts, the Conococheague Institute will celebrate one of the United States' greatest founding fathers -- Benjamin Franklin.

Conococheague Institute will host a full day of activities on Saturday, with re-enactors, Franklin scholars and two concerts featuring Franklin's compositions and the instrument he invented.

Walter Powell, Conococheague director, said the celebration is connected to the 225th anniversary of the founding of Franklin County, Pa., named after Ben Franklin.

The theme of the celebration is "Do You Know Ben Like I Know Ben?," according to Powell, and it will cover different aspects of Franklin's life and work.


"He was into everything. And talented in everything," Powell said. "Author Jim Srodes called him 'The essential founding father.'"

Musician and composer

Franklin is remembered as an inventor. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals and the Franklin stove, a home-heating innovation.

He also invented a musical instrument, the glass armonica. Dean Shostak said the concept is similar to making sound by rubbing the rim of a crystal glass. In Franklin's time, musicians created music by setting up a number of crystal glasses with varying amounts of water. The sound was ethereal, Shostak said.

But performers could play one note with each hand. Franklin's innovation was to nest the cups together horizontally on a spindle and spin the contraption with a foot pedal. Touch the rims and tones result.

"It's similar to playing wine glasses, but, with the armonica, you can play more notes," Shostak said. "I can play chords with my left hand and pick out a melody with my right."

Shostak will perform music by Franklin, Mozart and other composers on his glass armonica. He also plans to play other unusual instruments -- a glass violin, glass handbells and two 18th-century violins. Shostak's Saturday concert is free and open to the public; parking is $5 per car.

Many sides to Franklin

For Powell, the celebration's main events are the scholars' talks on Franklin.

"We're a museum that promotes the history and culture of this region and the 18th century -- from the French and Indian War through the Revolution," Powell said. "It seemed appropriate for us to assemble a panel of scholars to talk about him."

Five Franklin scholars will speak about different aspects of Franklin, who cut a wide swath across Colonial America.

British historian Joan Reid and her husband restored the house in London in which Franklin lived while he was a diplomat from the Colony of Pennsylvania. The house is the only one of Franklin's homes still standing and has exhibits about Franklin. Reid will speak about his 17 years as diplomat in London.

Jim Srodes wrote a book about Franklin's political life.

"Srodes said he was an intellectual with political skills," Powell said. "He could get along with a great variety of people, even people who didn't get along with each other."

Helen Westra, a professor of English at Grand Valley State University, will speak about Franklin's writing. Westra describes him as one of the best writers of the 18th century.

Cumberland County, Pa., historian Jeff Wood will speak about Franklin's connections to South Central Pennsylvania. And Roy Goodman, head of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, which Franklin founded, will speak about the view of Franklin in popular culture.

Powell said the speakers will each present their perspective on Franklin, then all five scholars will participate in a Saturday afternoon panel discussion.

If you go ...

WHAT: Benjamin Franklin Symposium, with speakers, vendors, re-enactors and family activities

WHEN: Friday, June 19, and Saturday, June 20

WHERE: Conococheague Institute, 12995 Bain Road, Mercersburg, Pa.

COST: Bus tour tickets cost $45; tickets for the dinner and concert cost $20. No admission fee for Saturday events; parking costs $5 per vehicle.

CONTACT: Call 717-328-3467 or go to


Friday, June 19

9 a.m. -- Bus tour of Franklin County sites connected to the French and Indian War (arrive by 8:30 a.m.) Tickets cost $45. Call 717-328-3467 to reserve a seat.

5:30 p.m. -- Dinner. Tickets cost $20.

7 p.m. -- Music of Benjamin Franklin. David Hildebrand of the Colonial Music Institute will play harpsichord, Spanish guitar and German and English wooden flutes. Included in cost of dinner.

Saturday, June 20

9 a.m. to 7 p.m. -- All-day activities include:

Benjamin Franklin, portrayed by Richard Fox

Displays by vendors and craftsmen

18th-century children's games

Military drills by members of Capt. Dagworthy's Company of the Maryland Forces (of the French and Indian War)

American Indian re-enactors

9 a.m. -- Opening of Ben Franklin exhibit at the Welsh Barrens Visitor Center of the Conococheague Institute assembled by Roy Goodman of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, which Franklin founded

10 a.m. -- Roy Goodman will speak about Franklin in popular culture

11 a.m. -- British historian Joan Reid will speak about Franklin's role as diplomat to England from the colony of Pennsylvania

1 p.m. -- Author Jim Srodes will talk about Franklin as politician and spy

2 p.m. -- Professor Helen Westra will speak about the writings of Franklin

3 p.m. -- Cumberland County historian Jeff Wood will speak about Franklin's local connections

4 p.m. -- Panel discussion featuring all five speakers

7 p.m. -- Concert by Dean Shostak of Colonial Williamsburg, Va.

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