When Larry and I wrote the Benjamin Franklinstein books, our intention was to visit Philadelphia to do some first-hand research. Unfortunately, something always seemed to get in the way and we never made the trip. We had to rely on books, videos, and Google Earth to give us a sense of the real locations where so many of Victor and Ben’s adventures take place.
Today, I finally got my chance. After visiting a school just outside the city, I hopped in my car and drove down to see how closely our descriptions of Philadelphia matched up with the real thing.
This is a spectacular building. It’s a little smaller than I thought it would be, and it’s policed by many National Park rangers at every entrance. It might have been a little tricky for Victor, Scott, Jaime and Ben to sneak in the back door the way they did in Thomas Deadison. (On the other hand, just about everyone else in the city had been turned into zombies by that point, so why not the rangers too? )
The building definitely looked like zombies could have climbed it, and I could picture the gang fighting for their lives in the tower, waiting for help to arrive.
The Park Behind Independence Hall
This is the park that Ben and Victor escape to in Benjamin Franklinstein Lives!, running from the guards from the American Philosophical Society. It’s right behind both buildings, and looks like this:
In our story, it’s full of vendors of all types, all dressed in Benjamin Franklin costumes. Ben is able hide in plain sight when he orders a Philly cheese steak from a guy who looks just like him.
When I got there, it was late in the day and there were no vendors around. Also, not one single person in a Benjamin Franklin costume. It was very disappointing.
I did see this guy nearby. Maybe he left his costume at home.
This building is across the street from the American Philosophical Society. Victor and Ben sit on the steps out front and talk about how Philadelphia has changed since Franklin’s day. One thing they don’t talk about, though, is the giant statue of Ben directly over their heads.
The Secret Entrance
This was the big one for me. In Benjamin Franklinstein Lives! Ben wants to sneak back into the American Philosophical Society to see if the Promethean headquarters still exists. To do that, he needs to use the secret underground tunnel.
For this scene to work, we needed a location not far from Philosophical Hall where we could place a secret entrance that would have been there in Franklin’s day. Finding a good location turned out to be harder than I expected.
After a good bit of scouring maps and Google Street View, I settled on a spot in Signers Park across the street. It contains a famous statue where Ben could hold forth while Victor picked the lock of a shed in the far corner. In the basement of that shed would be a trap door leading to the tunnel.
I’m happy (and relieved) to report that everything was right were I hoped it would be. The shed is not really a shed, but it’s close enough. Everything else works too.
All in all, a great trip, if a little strange. I’ve lived with these locations for the past few years, writing about them and drawing them in great detail. When I finally got to see them in person, it gave me an unsettling feeling of deja vu.
One thing I didn’t expect was how moving it would be to walk the same ground that Franklin himself walked centuries ago. After spending so much time with him as a character, it was easy to forget that he was a real man, and he did real things. Great things. Historic things.
Wouldn’t it be great if he really was asleep right now in someone’s basement? Maybe I should go back to Philadelphia and check…