Ben Franklin returns for history lesson Time traveler: Dressed in period garb, Philadelphia actor Ralph F. Archbold makes Benjamin Franklin come alive and takes people back to the 1700s.

April 28, 1996|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

Maybe the stranger in a brown waist coat and knee breeches was Benjamin Franklin, and maybe he wasn't, but Friday he held children at Linthicum Elementary School rapt with tales of the statesman/inventor's life and times.

Ralph F. Archbold, a 54-year-old Philadelphia actor who portrays Benjamin Franklin at Independence Hall and other venues around the country, took the children back to the 1700s.

He told of tall ships that drew him, as a boy, to Boston harbor, where he hid between barrels and watched seaman load and unload ships and heard the captain shout to his crew, "Hoist the saiiills."

Ben was lured to a life at sea, but his father, still grieving over the loss of another son at sea, had a different idea. Ben would go to Mr. Brownell's School of Reading and Arithmetic. Although he was crushed, Ben told the children, he also was fortunate.

"You were lucky to go to school back then," he said. "If you didn't go to school, you went to work."

He did poorly in math in his second year, Ben recalled, and his father removed him from the school. At Mr. Brownell's request. For the next two years, Ben worked in his father's business making candles and soap.

But he and Ben argued frequently, so Ben went to work for his brother, James, a printer. That didn't work out, either.

"Older brothers and sisters sometimes, not always, of course, but older brothers and sisters sometimes think they know " He paused and the children finished the sentence. "EVERYTHING," they shouted.

At 17, Ben ran away, landing in Philadelphia.

On his first day there, he was walking up a hill, eating a roll of bread, and spied "a girl about my age," Ben recalled. The children giggled nervously. Some covered their faces with their hands.

"I was wet, dirty, carrying three rolls of bread, had stockings sticking out of my pockets and she laughed at me. But I got even with her. I married her," Ben told them.

He opened a printing shop, churning out the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard's Almanac, the vehicle for many of Franklin's famous sayings such as "A penny saved is a penny earned."

Ben told of inventing the Franklin stove, opening public libraries and about organizing the Union Fire Co., the country's first fire company.

And of course, he told the story about the night he flew a kite during a terrible thunderstorm and discovered electricity.

"If you fly your kite, don't fly it on a rainy day," he warned.

As Mr. Archbold, 54, headed for his car, the children still could be heard asking, "Was that really Ben?"

No, it couldn't be, could it?

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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