- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006

Benjamin Franklin was never president of the United States, but his 300th birthday was celebrated on Presidents Day with an exhibit honoring the Founding Father’s life and inventions at the National Archives.

Scores of children and their parents stopped by the Archives to wish Franklin, played by Dean Bennett, a happy birthday and take part in the Franklin Family Day Celebration.

The archives building was filled with exhibits, samples and stories about Franklin, who was a statesman, an author, an inventor and a musician.

Visitors created pictures by tracing numbers. They made and decorated kites and signed the Treaty of Alliance.

“It’s a great day to see you all,” Mr. Bennett said in the auditorium before the youngsters and their parents watched Walt Disney’s 25-minute movie “Ben and Me.”

Sporting white shoulder-length hair and metal-rimmed glasses, Mr. Bennett wore a fringed white shirt, light tan knickers, green jacket with white lapel strips and white stockings.

Mr. Bennett, 73, is an authority on Franklin’s life and work. He has been impersonating Franklin for 25 years.

Upstairs in the Archives, Jill Lawrence played the role of Betsy Ross, who sewed the first U.S. Stars and Stripes for Franklin and Gen. George Washington.

Nearby, Cecilia Brauer played the glass armonica, an instrument that Franklin invented. She dipped her fingertips into saucers of water, then lay them against the edges of rotating glass bowls of various sizes.

In rapt attention nearby stood Madeline, 8, and Katherine, 5, of McLean, and their smiling mother, Margie Kelleher, 31, who said of Madeline, “She’s a big Ben Franklin fan.”

“I know all about him,” Madeline said, adding that her knowledge came from first-grade studies and books she received from Santa Claus last year. The books described the armonica, she said.

Franklin also discovered electricity by flying kites during lightning storms — one of which knocked him unconscious for two hours — before he invented lightning rods, which protected buildings and ships from lightning damage.

He also invented a heat-efficient stove known as the Franklin Stove, and helped Thomas Jefferson write parts of the Declaration of Independence.

Franklin was born Jan. 17, 1706, and his birthday is celebrated in Philadelphia, where he started several publications, including the Poor Richard’s Almanack.

He died in Philadelphia on April 17, 1790, at the age of 84.

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