First I should start by correcting myself a bit. In my last blog I said that the Friends of Benjamin Franklin House, U.S. objected to the idea put forth by the Friends of Benjamin Franklin House, U.K. to use theatrical presentations to tell the story and have a science lab on the upper floors of the house. To finance the U.K. groups plan would require that entrance fees be steep. The U.S. group thought that the cost would deter visitors. Well this seemed to be precisely the U.K. group’s intention. Knowing that the upper floors of the house were fragile they thought that pricey admissions would make it so that large numbers of people were never traipsing through the house, potentially damaging it. Since the U.K. group did not want to restore the house to as it looked when Franklin lived there citing that it would not be interesting enough to attract visitors, I have to wonder if both group’s reasoning was flawed. When the choice is to limit attendance by either price or ‘interesting-ness,’ would either one actually be viable in the long-term? This seems to be a recurring problem for house museums today. Do we simply create a snapshot in time and hope for the best, or do we forsake some of the history in order to infuse it with some 21st Century thinking (and still hope for the best)?
One of the largest files I’ve come across was one simply labeled ‘Hallam.’ Apparently in 2005 Margaret and Martin Hallam, Franklin historians living in England, were hired by the Friends U.S. to create a guidebook to 36 Craven St. As the book neared completion, the Hallams expressed interest in also printing to book in the U.K., and selling it at Craven St. when it opened. The reaction of the U.S. group was severe to say the least. Their response was that they did not want something they funded to be used in the U.K. They could not understand why the Hallam’s were even asking. Ultimately, no solution was ever found and the book went unfinished. The last documents in this particular file were of Mrs. Hallam requesting payment for the work that they did complete.
I also uncovered a document that further explains Lady Bessborough’s refusal to give back some Franklin memorabilia that was given to her for safekeeping during renovations. Bessborough apparently kept the artifacts because she felt that their “security would be compromised by theatrical presentations.” How the presentations and the security of the artifacts were related she did not elaborate on. Possibly this was just another way to stall the U.K. group, which by this time was rapidly moving towards achieving their goal for the house.
Still many files to look at…