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Benjamin Franklin and Me

Benjamin Franklin and Me

Today was my first day as a volunteer at Benjamin Franklin House.  I’ll be helping out here twice a week for the next three months.  Franklin was sent to London in 1757 to mediate disputes between the colonies and the British government.  He ended up spending almost 16 years in London, and rented rooms at 36 Craven Street for most of that time.  As a result, it’s often thought of as the first American embassy.  It’s also the only remaining house in the world where Franklin actually lived.

I’m really looking forward to helping out at Franklin House.  I studied arts management in college and worked at the Illinois Arts Council after I graduated, but eventually my career veered into higher education.  It’s great to reconnect with my interest in the arts.

The house was built about 1730 and retains many of its original features.  As a result it’s one of the most important examples of early Georgian architecture left in London.  I’m learning to give architectural tours of the house, which means I’m learning a lot of new vocabulary words.  I’m also helping out in the box office and with the Historical Experience program, which integrates multimedia and live performance to tell the story of Franklin’s time in London.

There’s a lot of interesting — and sometimes quirky — history surrounding 36 Craven Street.  For example, conservation work in the late 1990s revealed a cache of more than 2,000 bones buried under an addition at the back of the house.  Many of the bones showed evidence of saw marks.  Of course work halted immediately and the police were called in to investigate.

Eventually forensic anthropologists determined that the bodies were used in a private anatomy school run by William Hewson.  Hewson was a noted surgeon who was married to the daughter of Franklin’s landlady.  For a time he ran his school from the basement of the house.  It’s likely that some of the bodies were obtained by grave robbers.  When students were done with them, the remains were quietly buried in the backyard and forgotten for more than 200 years.

Benjamin Franklin was an avid scientist, and he continued to work on experiments and inventions while living on Craven Street.  He also had many theories about health and fitness.  He took a great interest in “air bathing,” which he believed could prevent illness.  It was his custom to strip naked in the morning, throw open one of the floor to ceiling windows, and sit there for up to an hour taking in the fresh air.  I can only imagine what the neighbors thought of that!

Craven Street is near Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, and the theater district.  This part of London is full of interesting museums, churches, and shops, and I’m looking forward to exploring it.  I’m also looking forward to meeting some of the other volunteers, a mix of Londoners and American students doing internships.  I encourage you to learn more about Benjamin Franklin and this interesting museum.

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