Today is the 306th birthday of the most popular man in Philadelphia history: Ben Franklin. And while everyone’s heard about the kite experiment and bifocals, there are some very cool things about our favorite citizen you may not know. Here are five things about Ben that will make him seem even more fascinating.
1. Ben Franklin … Mass Murderer? When excavation was done on Franklin’s London home in 1998, the remains of 10 dead bodies were found. While a few conspiratorial websites claim that Ben was a mass murderer who killed for Satan, the truth is probably a bit more pedestrian, though plenty creepy. While in London, Ben had a roommate who was a med student named William Hewson. Hewson probably purchased dead bodies on the black market and then performed surgeries in a school that he ran in the back of the house. While Franklin was almost certainly aware of these illegal dissections, it is doubtful that he participated. Since the doctor had bought the bodies from grave robbers and grave-robbing was illegal, he then buried them in the yard to avoid detection.
2. The Chess Hall of Fame. Bobby Fischer isn’t the most famous man in the World Chess Hall of Fame. That honor belongs to Ben Franklin, who was the only inductee in 1999. Franklin was one of chess’s earliest proponents in the United States, and his “Morals of Chess” is believed to be the second thing ever written about chess in the New World. He was obsessed with the game, regularly playing through the night until the next morning.
3. Would Franklin Be Anti-ObamaCare? Probably. Though he was a bleeding heart liberal, Ben Franklin was not a fan of handouts, and judging by “On the Price of Corn, and Management of the Poor,” which he wrote in 1766, he would probably be against modern welfare and maybe even universal health care.
“I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer. … Are our poor modest, humble, and thankful; and do they use their best endeavours to maintain themselves, and lighten our shoulders of this burthen? On the contrary, I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent.”
4. Drunken Satanic Orgies? According to this History Channel special on the occult: “In the late 1700s, a group of Englishmen formed the first Hellfire Club, a fraternity dedicated to drinking, sex, and at times ridiculing Christianity and mocking its sacred rituals. Members met in monastaries to revel in black masses and drunken orgies. An occasional participant was the American Ambassador to Great Britain … Benjamin Franklin.”
5. Leaving Philly More Than $2 Million … 200 Years Later. Now this is insanely cool. In 1785, a French mathematician named Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour wrote a parody of Poor Richard’s Almanac called Fortunate Richard in which he mocked Franklin’s frugality by having “Fortunate Richard” leave a small sum of money in his will only to be used after it had collected interest for 500 years. Franklin apparently didn’t think it was a joke. Instead he thought it was a great idea. And so, in his will, he bequeathed 1,000 pounds (the equivalent of U.S. $4,444) to both his real hometown of Boston and his adopted hometown of Philadelphia, on the condition that the money be placed in a fund that would gather interest for 200 years. And gain interest it did. A century after his death, both cities skimmed $500,000 out of their respective accounts for infrastructure improvements. After 200 years, the interest on the Boston trust fund had come in at over more than $5 million. In Philly it was more than $2 million. The following is from a 1993 Inky article by Clark DeLeon:
“Boston has always prided itself that it compounded the money wisely. Philadelphia has always had an inferiority complex because it didn’t,” said Bruce Yenawine, a Syracuse University Ph.D. candidate in history who has spent years researching the Franklin funds in both cities. “But Boston decided to minimize risks and maximize proceeds. Philadelphia, on the other hand, focused on the other side of Franklin’s instructions by loaning the money to individuals. I think that’s more in keeping with what Franklin wanted.”
Franklin stipulated that the 1,000 pounds (the equivalent of $4,444) be invested and used to provide low-interest loans to “married tradesmen under the age of 26″ to get them started in business. Over the 200-year life of the trust, money from the Philadelphia fund was loaned to hundreds of individuals, mostly for home mortgages during the last 50 years. Boston, meanwhile, invested the bulk of the money in a trust fund that Yenawine describes as “a savings company for the rich.”
So by leaving just over $4,000 in his will, Ben Franklin allowed hundreds of Philadelphians to become home owners over 150 years later. For a mass-murdering Satanist, that’s pretty damn righteous!