Ben Franklin is one of the most well known figures of American, or even global, history. Most know him as one of the Founding Fathers, or that he “discovered” electricity with a kite, key, and string. You might even know that he was a prolific inventor. But most don’t know much beyond those few facts.
While Ben Franklin is a lot of things, he’s also one of the characters in my new historical fantasy series The Dashkova Memoirs. While researching his life to get a feel for the man behind the myth, I learned about many aspects of his character that made me appreciate him even more.
He’s not at all the caricature of the historical figure he’s become. He was a flawed, brilliant, sometimes devious man who changed his mind about many subjects during the course of his long life. He loved and lusted, and was unfaithful to his wife, while simultaneously practicing his Virtues. He had ideas and beliefs and was not afraid to use the tools at hand, most often his printing press, to change public opinion.
He was above all, a modern man born in a colonial time. In the course of my research, I found many aspects of Ben Franklin that would feel familiar to people today. So I’m going to share some of these quirks and interesting facts about Ben Franklin that you were, no doubt, unaware of.
1) To prove that European intellectuals were far too pretentious and concerned about unimportant matters when it came to science, Ben wrote the paper Fart Proudly to show the importance of researching bodily matters.
2) He practiced “air bathing” for better health. At the time, the common wisdom was that cold weather caused sickness. Ben, however, understood that people were the problem and being cooped up all winter with each other led to sickness, so he would sit in his open window, naked as the day, to help with air circulation and disease prevention.
3) Practiced what we now call “sock puppetry”, using multiple aliases in his pamphleteering to give the appearance that many people had similar views, sometimes arguing with himself through different names. His most famous alter ego was Silence Dogood.
4) Practiced Thirteen Virtues as a way to improve his character. Though never all of them at once, knowing that he was fallable and practical. What’s even more remarkable is that he came up with this system at the age of twenty.
5) Nearly electrocuted himself trying to kill and cook a turkey with electricity.
6) Created a drinking club called Junto (which means “To join”) in which its members met informally over drinks to discuss the issues of the day. Many of his social inventions came from this club, or others like it.
7) A large number of bodies were found in Ben Franklin’s basement in 1998. It was presumed that they were taken from graveyards to study human anatomy, which was in its infancy in those days (and very illegal).
8) The First Mythbuster. Jamie and Adam would be proud, or visa versa if Franklin were alive today. Ben Franklin solved the myth of mesmerism, which involved a force called animal magnetism, using his wits, the scientific method, and the placebo effect (which was unknown at the time).
9) Ben nearly lost his life chasing a “wind-spout”, or tornado, in Maryland to help prove his theory that water spouts were really made of air.
10) He was a great swimmer and once swam 3.5 miles up the Thames from Chelsea to Blackfriars. He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968.
These ten items are only a glimpse into Ben Franklin’s amazing life. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the various texts about Ben during my research for The Dashkova Memoirs. If you’d like to read more about a fictional fantasy version of Ben Franklin, then you can find my books on Amazon.
Book One – Revolutionary Magic
Book Two – A Cauldron of Secrets
Book Three – Birds of Prophecy