Ben Franklin Up Close and Personal at the Library

Benjamin Franklin, statesman and U.S. founding father, was alive and well at the Main Library Hicks Auditorium on Wed., Jan. 19, not looking old enough to have celebrated his 310th birthday just two days earlier. At least, that’s what actor Barry Stevens wanted the audience to believe.

“They saw Ben in me, I never saw Ben in myself,” said Stevens, who has been creating a Franklin persona for school-age children for the past 10 years.  Perhaps Stevens hasn’t looked in the mirror hard enough, because the elementary students from different Jacksonville schools who filled the auditorium were eager to accept Steven’s Franklin persona and listen to him present a biographical monologue.

Jacksonville Public Library Urban Libraries Manager Stephanie Miller was pleased with the children’s focus during the program. “The kids were able to suspend their disbelief for about 45 minutes and listen intently,” she said. “It was remarkable to me.”

Then, the children eagerly bombarded “Franklin” with questions, such as “What was your first invention?” and “Where did you go to school?” It was a fun way for the kids to learn more about such an important figure in American history. Each year hundreds of students attend these educational performances, sponsored by The Colonial Dames of Florida.

The library is an appropriate place for Franklin to appear as one of his most remarkable contributions was the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731. It was America’s first lending library and can lay claim to being the predecessor of the free public library. Thanks, Ben!

Prior to this field trip, many students wrote essays about Benjamin Franklin. At the final performance of the morning, James Zipfel, a fifth grader at Daniel Academy, was announced the winner of the essay contest. He received a certificate and a kite!  With Franklin’s vision almost 300 years ago and the Jacksonville Public Library’s continuation of his mission, James and all of the other students can Start Here. Go Anywhere.

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