Everything listed under: Gods of Pennsylvania

  • Gods of Pennsylvania: Benjamin Franklin

    Today is Benjamin Franklin’s 307th birthday. Happy birthday Ben!

    I figured today would be a great day to add Franklin to my “Gods of Pennsylvania” list -- and if this list were like the pantheon of Greek gods, Franklin would Zeus.

    Although Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, he is better known as a Pennsylvanian, spending most of his life in Philadelphia (even being the President of PA for three years). His resume includes being an author, activist, diplomat, inventor, musician, politician, postmaster, printer, satirist, scientist, and statesman. He is often referred to as "The First American" and is still looked highly upon as one of the most important figures in American history.

    Franklin had a fierce belief in being a virtuous person and having a country that was morally in-tune (their civic duty). This was evidenced by his active involvement many “do-good” organizations along with volunteering his time to help the poor.

    At the age of twenty, Franklin was looking for ways to build up his own character and created a list of thirteen virtues:

    1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

    2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

    3. Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

    4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

    5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

    6. Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

    7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

    8. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

    9. Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

    10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

    11. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

    12. Chastity: Rarely use venery (sexual indulgence) but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation"

    13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

    Even more than his striving to be upright, Franklin is known for his witty words, and is still one of the most quoted individuals in history. Some of my favorites:

    “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

    “Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

    “Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle.”

    “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”

    “To find out a girl's faults, praise her to her girlfriends.”

    Other well-known quotes:

    “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

    “Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”

    “God helps those who help themselves.”

    So, take a moment to honor the memory of this man by sharing this story, or your favorite Franklin quote, with your world.

    Three cheers, and long live the memory of Benjamin Franklin!

  • Gods of Pennsylvania: Henry Mercer

    From the moment I stepped inside the central atrium of the Mercer Museum, I felt like Alice falling through the rabbit hole and emerging in Wonderland.

    My senses were overloaded as floor after floor contained an eclectic display of pre-industrial tools, seen from a multitude of vantage points, which made each tier of this castle grander than the next.

    Simply put -- this place is magical.

    Unless you live in the Doylestown area (a northwest Philadelphia suburb), it is doubtful you know much, if anything, about Henry Mercer and his giant, six story, cement building in the middle of the borough.

    So -  let me take a moment to introduce you to the man and his mission.

    Henry Chapman Mercer was born just prior to the Civil War in 1856, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania to the wealthy Mercer family (Massachusetts textile industry). He was well educated and had lots of opportunities to travel, especially throughout Europe. He acquired a degree at Harvard, then went onto law school at the University of Pennsylvania, but never practiced because his interests turned toward archaeology - this is when he helped found the Bucks County Historical Society and was appointed the curator of American and prehistoric archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania's museum.

    His turning point in life was around 1897 when he noticed the quick decay of early American society, which was being replaced by industrialism. Mercer’s story is that he saw a mess of old agricultural tools and household utensils piled together to be sold, and then realized that American pre-industrial history was being discarded. He made it his mission to start saving these items to be preserved for future generations and according to the Annapolis Capital Newspaper, he went about "rummaging the bake ovens, wagon houses, cellars, haylofts, smokehouses, garrets, and chimney corners" for anything Americana.

    The collection continued to grow until he had over 30,000 items - and like any good collector, he needed a place to display his wares.  This is where the Mercer Museum comes into play.

    In 1913, Henry, along with eight day-laborers and “Lucy” the horse started construction on the 6-story concrete castle (completed in 1916) and filled it with his vast inventory. Every year, more than 80,000 people visit the showroom and leave awestruck over what they see. And since the museum was specifically designed by Mercer to display pre-industrial tools, he created an experience for people to view the items up close and from many different perspectives - this produces an intimate connection to the people who used these devices.

    One of the best compliments about the location came from Henry Ford, who stated that “the Mercer museum was the only museum worth visiting in the United States”, and if you have ever been to Ford’s own museum in Dearborn, Michigan, it’s apparent that Mercer inspired him greatly.

    So - now that you have a little background, here’s my picks for why he made the Gods of Pennsylvania list:


    When we see a problem, what do most of us do? We usually shrug our shoulders and wish there was something they could do about it. Well, when Mercer saw a problem, he went about fixing it.

    For instance, while he was amassing his collection of pre-industrial tools, he became interested in German Pennsylvanian tile making and quickly realized this craft was going the way of the dinosaurs. Mercer immediately apprenticed himself to an authentic potter in Bucks County where he became proficient in the art. He then followed up by building the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works to preserve the craft (which still operates to this date).

    His passion led him to action - something we all should desire.


    In a few of  Mercer’s books, he talks about his frustration with certain aspects of archeology, especially drawing conclusions from finding items that don’t have a connective line to the present. So his idea was to start with the present (what we know) and then work toward the past.

    Also, while he travelled throughout Europe, he became aware that many museums had been destroyed (and with it their collections) by fire. He had the foresight to make his house, tile factory, and museum out of reinforced concrete to ensure they would around for a very long time.

    Renaissance Man

    Much like Thomas Jefferson and Leonardo Da Vinci, Mercer was well educated and gifted in many fields of study. In his lifetime, he was a lawyer, architect, artisan, engineer, anthropologist, collector, curator, author, historian, and a tile-maker (to name a few).

    After talking with Ed Reidell, site administrator at the Fonthill Museum (Mercer’s home), it became apparent that Henry was incredibly gifted at whatever he set his mind to do. Henry’s skill at tile-working landed him the job of creating four hundred different scenes from Pennsylvania’s history to decorate the state Capitol’s floor. His work also shows up at the Monte Carlo casino, Rockefeller's New York estate, the St. Louis Public Library, and Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California.

    Upon his death in 1930, Henry Mercer left Fonthill Castle to his housekeeper and the museum and tile-works to the Bucks County Historical Society where they continue to keep his vision alive today.

    I highly recommend you put Doylestown on your lists of “must sees” and visit all three of Mercer’s buildings (The Mercer Mile), but if you can’t get there immediately, check out this virtual tour of the main atrium.  (http://www.mercermuseum.org/themes/mysite/swf/p01tm.swf)

    To see pictures from my adventure there, click here.

  • Gods of Pennsylvania: Betsy Ross

    On June 14, 1916, during the celebration of the first national Flag Day, President Woodrow Wilson was asked to comment on the story of the flag and its creator, Betsy Ross.

    His reply... “would that it be true!”

    Don’t you think that’s a strange response?

    I know I do.

    So...what gives on the President not believing all the hype around Betsy Ross -- and -- if she wasn’t involved with the manufacturing of the original Stars and Stripes, why does she qualify to be one of the gods of Pennsylvania? 

    I’m glad you asked!

    Let’s start with what we do know about Betsy (if that was her real name -- actually, it was Elizabeth).

    She was born on New Year’s Day, 1752 in Philadephia, Pennsylvania 

    Even though she was raised Quaker, she eloped with John Ross, an Episcopalian, which caused her to be cut off from her family

     She was an upholsterer and mother of seven

     Completely blind at the age of 84, Betsy died and was buried three times since her death

    Here’s what you might not know:

    The story of the flag being made by her didn’t surface until 1870, almost 100 years after the supposed event, when her grandson, William Canby, told the Historical Society of Pennsylvania that his grandmother made the flag at George Washington’s request.

    Painter and entrepreneur, Charles H. Weisgerber, invented the scene in his 1893 painting of Ross sitting in her Philadelphia parlor with the sun shining down on the flag in her lap --  needless to say, he profited greatly from the Betsy Ross legend.

     Even if she did have a hand in creating the first flag, the only thing she could actually be credited with is changing the stars to being five-pointed since the rest of the design was already in play.

     There is no credible historical evidence - diaries, newspaper accounts, letters, or bills of sale that suggest Betsy had anything to do with the flag prior to 1777. (Studies done by both the National Museum of American History and Smithsonian experts are sited.)

    Regardless of what's an actual fact, Betsy should be considered, at least, a demigod of Pennsylvania as her story still inspires people to be filled with American pride and patriotism.

    Having people at the center of our stories is crucial as it helps us identify those whom we call our heroes.

    If you’re interested in reading a counterpoint article, visit: http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/flagpcp.html

  • Gods of Pennsylvania: William Penn

    “His work keeps pace with his life, and so leaves nothing to be done when he dies.”
    -William Penn {Maxim #497}

    I have come to think of William Penn, not just as the founder of Pennsylvania, but as a man worthy of admiration and honor. Here are a handful of reasons why I am convinced this is true:

    He rejected his father’s faith, but gained his father’s respect.
    Sir William Penn (William Penn’s father) was a well-respected Admiral in the Royal Navy under Oliver Cromwell, and was a strong supporter of the Church of England. When his son converted to Quakerism, it became a recurring point of strife between the two for most of their lives. But before Sir William Penn died, he told his son, "Let nothing in this world tempt you to wrong your conscience” and laid out an agreement with the King and the Duke of York (the King’s successor) to protect his son even after he’d be gone (as he knew his Quaker beliefs would cause many problems down the road). It’s difficult going against one’s family, but it’s almost impossible to go against one’s own conscience as it will never leave you.

    He was imprisoned...a lot.
    Granted, it was a different time back in the 17th and 18th century, but William Penn was thrown into prison three times for blasphemy, street preaching, and conspiracy against the Crown. He stood up for what he believed in and would not be silenced, even behind bars. On one occasion, he was found “not guilty” by a jury, but the decision was overturned by the magistrate who disagreed with their judgement, and then threw the jury into jail for finding Penn “not guilty”.

    He was kicked out of college.
    Even before Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, and Steve Jobs became famous for being super wealthy college dropouts, William Penn was expelled from Oxford for standing up against forced religious services. Then, when he went home, it was reported that his father attacked him with a cane, and shipped him off to Paris to learn some manners. Still, Penn was fluent in multiple languages, wrote volumes upon volumes of hailed works, became the largest private landholder in the world, had many successful entrepreneurial enterprises, and was a respected leader.

    He dealt fairly with the natives.
    My utmost respect for Penn comes from his dealings with the Lenape tribe as he treated them with fairness and equality. William Penn’s treatment of the original inhabitants led to a prolonged period of peaceful relations between the settlers and the tribe. His idea of equality wasn’t perfect, but it was a good start and was the basis for many of the founding Fathers’ belief in “all men are created equal”.

    In sum, William Penn was a progressive rebel, expelled from the leading university, and carried a criminal record, but whose legacy still continues today with his ideas of equality, fair treatment, and liberty for all.

    {If you’re ever in the Philadelphia area, I highly recommend you check out Pennsbury Manor.}


  • Gods of Pennsylvania: Mr. Rogers

    The most precious commodity in the state of Pennsylvania is not the landscape nor the many attractions, but the people who call this place home. Among the almost thirteen million people, some rise above the rest, and in essence become gods among men.

    One such individual is the late Fred Rogers...or better know to most as Mr. Rogers.

    He was born and raised in Latrobe, PA about forty miles southeast of Pittsburgh. After getting his music degree in Florida, he was hired by NBC in NYC to do a production job but then came back to Pittsburgh to work at the public television station - WQED. During his time in Pennsylvania, he was ordained as a minister and was charged by the seminary to continue his work with children’s television. After a short time in Toronto, he moved back to Pittsburgh and started doing the show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. 895 episodes later, a children’s television show turned into an American classic and cemented Fred Rogers as a legend. (Paragraph references: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Rogers)

    But even more than being the host of an educational kid’s show, Mr. Rogers was:

    Consistent: I’ve never known someone to be the same weight for over thirty years...well Mr. Rogers was! (143 pounds was what the scale showed everyday.) Other daily consistencies include: taking a morning swim, napping every afternoon, and never eating meat. Not to mention his show had the same format from start to finish -- walking in, changing jacket for sweater, lacing shoes, etc.

    Proactive: Fred’s reason for getting into TV was because he disliked TV. The first thing he saw on television was angry people throwing pies at each other. He vowed to make TV better and went into the industry to change it. Instead of just complaining about a problem, he went about trying to fix it.

    Respected: There’s a story that floats around about Mr. Rogers having his car stolen while working. The news of this happening was picked up by the media and within 48 hours, his car magically appearing back in his parking spot with a note reading, “If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it.” He is also credited with saving the VCR and public television simply by testifying before congress.

    Kind: He was a big promoter of tolerance to all people and practiced his good neighbor mantra on camera and off. I remember watching an episode of Candid Camera where they were trying to provoke Mr. Rogers into losing his temper. As hard as they tried, he was understanding and spoke kindly to those who where trying to embrace him.

    I probably know more about Mr. Rogers than I care to admit, but I do hope to follow his example of being consistent, proactive, respected, and kind.

    If your curiosity has been peaked, I encourage you to read more about Fred Rogers by checking out Tom Junod’s incredible article “Can You Say Hero?” It’s worth your time.

    BTW...my favorite Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood episode was where he went to the marble factory! What is yours?