Philly celebrating Ben Franklin

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Ben Franklin: inventor, philosopher, author, scientist, diplomat, Founding Father.

Although he was born in Boston on Jan. 17, 1706, Franklin's adopted hometown of Philadelphia will throw him the biggest birthday bash any 300-year-old guy's ever had. Actually, Philly has been celebrating the American Big Ben's tercentenary since last year with tours, events, hotel packages, restaurant specials and more.

The Tercentenary Consortium made up of the American Philosophical Society, the Franklin Institute, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of Pennsylvania began planning this celebration in 2000 with a lead $4 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trust.

The centerpiece of all this birthday hoopla is the exhibition "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World," which opened last month at the National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St., between Fifth and Sixth streets. This is just a couple of blocks from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center.

The exhibition runs in Philadelphia through April 30, after which it will travel, over the next two years, to St. Louis, Houston, Denver and Atlanta. Its last stop will be Paris in 2008.

Anyone whose knowledge of Franklin is limited before entering the exhibition won't be able to make that claim when departing. Just outside the exhibition space is a 25-foot model ship visitors can climb aboard to learn how Franklin charted the course of the Gulf Stream. Inside the exhibition are more than 250 original items, including five of America's founding documents -- the Albany Plan, The Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Amity, the Paris Treaty and the Constitution -- all signed by Franklin. His copy of the Constitution includes his handwritten notes and signature "B. Franklin."

The exhibition represents the largest collection of historic items related to Franklin ever gathered in one place. Items in the exhibition came from 76 lenders in 16 states and four countries. Many of the artifacts belong to Franklin's descendants and had never been seen in public before.

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