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Ben Franklin Slept Here

The ingenious founding father's only surviving residence, in London, is reborn as a museum

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Instead, for an admission of £8 (about $14), visitors are now treated not to a re-creation of the interior of the house as it was when Franklin lived there but to a high-tech, theatrical experience dramatizing aspects of Franklin’s London years. Starting in the kitchen, an actress playing the part of Polly Stevenson Hewson (the daughter of Franklin’s landlady, Margaret Stevenson) leads visitors through the house. (Polly followed Franklin to America after the War of Independence and was at his bedside when he died.) The rooms are essentially bare—just exposed floorboards and walls painted a muted green, as they would have been in Franklin’s day. Each room is dedicated to a different aspect of the many-faceted man. The first-floor rooms, for instance, where he slept, entertained, conducted scientific experiments and held crucial political meetings with members of the British government, are devoted to Franklin, the public man. Recorded extracts from Franklin’s letters and other writings, re-enacted speeches by members of Parliament and images beamed from ceiling-mounted projectors present visitors with a dramatization of the Hutchinson Affair.

“It’s not like Colonial Williamsburg, where there’s someone churning butter and you engage in conversation,” says the site’s director, Márcia Balisciano. “This is ‘the museum as theater,’ in which the visitor is very much a part of the drama.”

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