Benjamin Franklin would be celebrating his 302nd birthday today if he were around. When I think of this great inventor, scientist, politician, sage, founding father, first postmaster general, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera I also think of Benjamin Franklin the Gray’s Ferry visitor and guest. Very often during his colorful lifetime, Benjamin Franklin visited the Gray’s Ferry area of Philadelphia to share a pint or two and speculate about the agricultural theories of the colonial period with John Bartram. The two men were friends and shared common interests in horticulture, ornithology and agricultural techniques. It is really amazing to envision most of Gray’s Ferry as an agricultural area…however that’s exactly how it was. Today we are fortunate to still have the Bartram House and surrounding gardens as a reminder of the rich history and roots they are well established in this enclave of South Philadelphia. Unfortunately, it is not really a well visited historical site, such as Independence Hall, or the Betsy Ross House.

However, as we remember Benjamin Franklin today, I would like to think that he would be quite at ease in any part of Gray’s Ferry, past or even present. The community offered the opportunity for Franklin to let down his powdered wig and enjoy the busy activities of the ferry area, which was the primary point of entrance into colonial Philadelphia. I could just imagine Ben, hanging out at Bartram’s house, going around the fields, checking out the latest botanical specimens and trying out the latest harvesting techniques with his host John Bartram. It would also seem quite natural for all of the local residents to join the pair as Franklin wandered around and socialized with as many residents as possible.

Today however perhaps Ben would be sporting an IPod, have a cellular phone and maybe even look for a Wi-Fi spot where he could publish his thoughts for the Pennsylvania Gazette on his laptop, or check out his email on his Blackberry. Franklin would be quite at home in Gray’s Ferry…wandering around the streets, talking with all of the neighbors, perhaps even sharing a few libations with people at the local ale houses. It really makes me smile to think about the possibility of a contemporized Ben Franklin, having a cold pint at Dean’s Bar at 29th and Tasker, discussing the needs for better police services in the neighborhood, the value of town watch, the necessity of political changes in municipal government and the necessity of neighborhood dialogue among all faiths and races. He would have quite an audience of listeners in the local watering hole. The sage would be on stage, as are most gentlemen when they belly up to the bar and share a few philosophical pints with their friends and co-conspirators.

As we remember Ben Franklin as the colonial dynamo of political, scientific and democratic ambitions we really need to think of him as the modern prototype for the modern expressions of all American democratic ideals…the right to speak freely, the right to assemble wherever one likes, the right to work and develop a profitable lifestyle and the right to have dialogue with all types of people, creeds and ideas.

At the end of the day, I am sure that Ben would be hanging out on the corner at 29th and Tasker…bemoaning all of the issues that plague modern city living…however there would be one astute difference…Ben would be advocating change, promoting harmony and developing dialogue with everyone that would listen to his innovative and revolutionary ideas.

Today, such dialogue and discussion still goes on in neighborhood bars and other gathering spaces, such gatherings are essentially part of the American experience, the Philadelphia flavor and the thrill of growing up in a closely knit neighborhood. Lets all enjoy the legacy of the historical, social and political influences that have developed in Gray’s Ferry in and through its residents and visitors like Ben Franklin.

Happy Birthday Ben…the pints are on me at Deans!

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