Could I Be Related to Ben Franklin?

Liberty BellOne of the United States’ most important cities in its early history was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, located in the northeast part of the US.  Philadelphia was the site (location) of the first meetings of the Revolutionary War leaders in the late 1700s.  It was where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, announcing our independence from Great Britain.  It was where our Constitutional Convention took place, and was our nation’s first capital.  There’s a great deal (a lot) of history in Philadelphia, and today it continues to be a popular place for tourists visiting the United States.

Like many popular tourist locations, Philadelphia also has many private tour companies that will take you around to all of the important areas and explain the history behind the city and its historic buildings.  And like all tour companies with talkative (talking a lot) tour guides (people who lead or are in charge of the tours), sometimes not everything they say is 100% accurate.  In fact, sometimes they make things up (invent things, say things that are not true), which can be very confusing for a tourist who does not know the real story.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that some of the tour guides in Philadelphia were telling tourists that one of the early, popular leaders of our country, Benjamin Franklin, had fathered more than 80 illegitimate children!  (An illegitimate child is one who is born to a woman not married, although this term is not used very much today, especially since there is such a high percentage of American children born to unmarried mothers.)  Ben Franklin had the reputation for being, well, a “lady’s man” (a man who is popular with women and tries to have many romantic relationships with them), but there is no evidence he had 80 children.   Another guide said that George Washington, our first president, once had lunch in Philadelphia with Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, which would have been rather (very) difficult, since Washington died 10 years before Lincoln was born.

Because of these distortions (half-truths, false ideas) by some tour guides, the city of Philadelphia decided to institute (begin, start) a mandatory (required, obligatory) history test that all the registered guides had to take and pass to get permission to be a tour guide.  This seems at first like a reasonable idea, but the tour guides disagreed.  They didn’t want to be forced to take an exam, and instead sued (took legal action against) the city to stop the test.  Their reason?  One of the freedoms that Americans are supposed to have is freedom of speech, the freedom to say what you want, whenever you want (with some restrictions, however).  Having to take an exam limited the freedom of speech of the tour guides, they said.  The city of Philadelphia responded by saying that no, they were not required to actually tell people the facts included on the test; they only had to pass the test.  After that, they could say whatever they wanted!

While I understand what the city of Philadelphia was trying to do here, it does seem like a rather difficult task to come up with (create) an “official” history that all guides must follow.  Part of the problem is that historians do not all agree on what the “true” history is of a place.  And I agree with the tour guides that the government cannot be in the business of regulating what someone can say in public, even if it isn’t true.  And if the guides are not required to actually use the information they learn from the test, why bother (why go to the trouble of) giving them a test at all?

But what about the poor tourist, who will get possibly false information?  I think that most tourists know enough not to believe everything they hear from a private tour guide.  I have been on many tours and I always keep in mind (try to remember) that at least some of the things they tell me are probably not true.  I myself was in Philadelphia back in 1976 for the bicentennial (200th anniversary) of the Declaration of Independence (I was a boy of 13 at the time), and while I remember visiting the famous historical sites, I also remember reading my own tour books to get the details on the places I was visiting.  Most Americans study about the Revolutionary War, so (I hope) they at least will know what is true and what is not.  For international tourists, it may be a good idea wherever you travel to read a little on your own rather than relying on your tour guide.

Here’s an interesting idea: Take a tour of your own city and see what the tour guides tell visitors about where you live.  You may be surprised by some of the things they tell you!


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17 Responses to Could I Be Related to Ben Franklin?

  1. +1 says:

    Hi, Jeff,

    I watched a HBO film several days ago, John Adama. (

    In this series film, it described Benjamin Franklin as a humorous and funny character. It is so interesting.

    Perhaps we could watch some classical works to help us comprehend a history and culture of country.


  2. emiliano says:

    I see the blog bigger is it true or is my computer who does the work?. Really nice I can see the words I am writting on the screen
    now, I am delighted and may be I´d have less mistakes now?. I´d try in future.

  3. emiliano says:

    Talking about this matter, here in my country we have a career that have to course whichever person who wants to be an official tourist guide. In fact there is forbidden to do this work to people that doesn’t have the studies. Even more, a tourist guide working in a place can´t work in other different city.

    If they work in Sevilla they can´t work in Barcelona or Madrid, and tourist that are traveling with the agencies in different trips the travel agency has to ask for the assistance of the tourist guides of the city they are going to see despite there are guides inside the own tour talking inside the buses, but not out the buses. This is absolutely forbidden for them.

    I don´t know if this is good or not, but it is the way we have here and I think it is also in some other european places or cities.
    I you visit Florece, Rome or Paris you have to ask for a local tourist guide and the one you carry in the bus has to be silence in the visit.
    They know what are they talking about?….that is another history, it depends of the person but I suppose they have to say many
    untrue thing to do history more attractive for the poor tourist that are to put up with so much speech.
    I agree with you Jeff that the better is reading a good guide book before or meanwhile the visit and it is just what we did when
    Cuca and me used to travel.

    Congratulations Lucy/Jeff and ESL team the blog looks nicer now at least for me.

  4. Julio says:

    There are official and non-official guides everywhere. Recently, here in Madrid there have been some demonstrations done by official guides whereas protesting against non-official ones, in front of several tourist groups for letting them know about that fact. Besides, if somebody goes to Fez in Morocco, for instance, there are plenty of representatives of both types struggling among themselves to get new clients.
    In my oppinion, the question is that official guides are generally more expensive than non-official, and sometimes with a wide gap. This is why many tourists tend to hire them when they are abroad.
    In any case, I think a official guide will likely offer a better information than a non-official, not for his permission but because he or she will have had to study previously a lot, and in this sense he or she will have a better knowledge at least over the local history.
    Thank you for your blog and the initiative, jeff.
    best regards from Spain,

  5. elcomandant says:

    I knew that many stories that the tour guides tell us are not true. Often they are stories that speak to us of love’s stories, fights, etc., In short, they are anecdotes with not much relevance which make the story nicer or more attractive. I think this fantasy can be funny. Really is not very importante.

    Another thing is when a tour guides tells us a big lies or something that can change the real history.

    In my view, I think that the ruling classes of the cities must require to all tour companies and its tour guides that they learn the real history so that they must tell us the truth. As they want but always the truth, even with some invented stories to make more pleasant our visite.

    If we don’t do this way, maybe it can happen what I saw at the movie “Slamdog millionaire” not many days ago. (who has seen it, I suppose they know what I want to say).

    I believe at speech freedom but I also believe in my right to know the truth, besides I pay for that. So, someone should protect to me.


  6. Tania says:

    Hi ! I like Langston Hughes , his short poems. May I tell you the nicest lines ?

    April Rain Song
    Let the rain kiss you
    Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
    The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
    And I love the rain .

    Let America be America Again
    Let America be America again .
    Let it be the dream it used to be .
    O, let America be America again-
    The land that never has been yet-
    And yet must be – the land where every man is free .

    Thank you Doctor Jeff.

    For you all , let the rain kiss you .


  7. Akiuki says:

    I agree with elcomandant, if I pay for a tour guide I want him to tell me, at least, what is unquestionable about a place and its history; in the same way when I am visiting a museum I am expecting to see original painting.


  8. Elisângelo says:

    Hi there,

    well, This is really s real matter, so even though you got a book guide in the kick off of any tour trip whatever you make, since you make it by some tour company, not always you are so fan of read insted to keep your eyes on at every single second of the trip.

    I guess the majority is acostum to keep their ears up on in any speech than they’re willing to struggle squezing their eyes reading those little word written down in the book guides which lead us into a such pain on our eyes.

    although, if you are a tour guider and keep in that line by say just real facts… you probably going to run the risk of have a whole of crew and visitors falling asleep as soon as you start to read the testament stuck into your mind.

    best regards to all of you podcast fellows.

  9. Peter says:

    Cut them some slack doc, They are a bunch of university students, for the most part. If they do it ,they do it for some pocket money. They are not curators doc.

    I did it back home when I was in junior class. And here during my Sofamor. For both cases, I just toured people around and uttered gibberish, I memorized about every exhibit or piece. Honestly, for most cases , I didn’t know what on earth I was talking about.

    People who take on this job are not historians. Even historians can’t be definite about what they claim to be a part of so called history.You cannot be certain unless you are capable of bending time my friend.

  10. Le Trung Hieu says:

    Dear Jeff
    Did you mean every tour-guide in Philadelphia has certificate? ( I mean they must graduate some school to have the permission to do their job)
    The question is they must be educated about history, they know true history, why do they still tell us wrong?

    The certificate to be a tour-guide must have the accept of the city where he or her works. There should be an annual qualifying test. If some tour-guide can’t pass this test, their certificate will be banned for a years. This is identical with that the school give you certificate if only you graduated. (This is undeniable)

    There are three kinds of tourists: The first one don’t know a little about history, they travel, enjoy themselves and don’t care about what the tour-guide say. These people aren’t affected by wrong state.
    The second one are who know much about history, or prepared to know about the history of where they go ( like you, Jeff). They aren’t affected by wrong state, too. But they feels very uncomfortable to hear the wrong state
    The third one is much affected by the tour-guide. They know a little bit of history and interesting about history. They remember what the tour-guide say. And the wrong state make them jump to the wrong conclusions. It is very bad.

    Those are my opinion about your entry.
    Thank you Dr Jeff.

  11. pedro says:

    Well,this is a very interesting topic,dear readers of ESL Podcast Blog.And I wonder,why should a tour guide tell lies in the first place? -To embellish his or her story? (you may think) OK,and would you like that someone with no qualms did that to you? -I wouldn’t,that’s for sure.- OK buddy,are you telling me that you haven’t told a single lie in your entire life?(one of those chatty tour guides may ask me) -Of course not,I mean, of course I have,but that’s not the point here.The point is that one thing is freedom of speech and another is freedom to tell lies to a poor group of naive tourists,don’t you think?
    And have you ever thought what would happen if you,dear chatterbox, told lie after lie to one of those know-it-all tourists who know way more that whatever you’re talking about?-yeah,you’re right,you’d be caught in the act,not a nice thing to say about a skilled tour guide like you,don’t you think ,my friend? So,think better next time.In general,people don’t like to be deceived into believing something that is not true(I thought you already knew that,didn’t you?).So,here’s a little advice to you:stop whining and study hard to pass that damned exam.

  12. Christoph says:

    I visited Philadelphia and its historical sites in Sept. 2007. In one of the important buildings there, I think it was the National Constitution Center, they had an oversize facsimile of the American Constitution, on which visitors could sign their names. So I did.
    Later that day, we had dinner in a very fancy restaurant called the „William Penn Inn“, I told that to our host who had invited us to Philadelphia, using the expression „Today I signed the Constitution“. A nearby standing waiter happened to hear that and draw the conclusion I had become a new citizen of the United States that day and that we were celebrating this event in a noble restaurant. I was pretty amazed when a few minutes later he appeared at our table with a nicely wrapped cake, wishing me all the best for my future life. I didn‘t really understand the situation then, nevertheless enjoying the delicious cake, thinking the waiter might probably have thought it was my birthday. Our host told me later on our way home what really happened.
    So if you want a free cake, simply go to the „William Penn Inn“ and tell people there you just signed the Constitution.

  13. Peter says:

    And also, Ben Franklin says: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

    And ,It is not a joke

  14. Peck says:

    Thank your for your kind issue.
    Well, I look forward to visit some important places around here soon.

  15. Kevin Fan says:

    Hi, I think the tourist guides are representatives of the country ( or, at least the city) to foreigners. So what they say should base on facts, not make-ups. I agree that in order to amuse tourists, they can make up stories, but they should be aware when doing so. After, telling the facts is showing respect to people.


  16. emiliano says:

    Thank you very much Tania.

    A very nice poem lines, do it more times please, I should be grateful.

  17. emiliano says:

    Good point to talk about, and I think as the majority that we don’t like to be cheated about some important historical events, these people doing their work have to be rigorous telling tourist real history, facts, dates, reasons, art movements and so on.
    So I think it is necessary to be prepared to do this work properly, and some kind of studies and examinations is required. But what is sure I think is that we need to be alert that the distortion of history is a fact depending the place we are visiting and the moment it happens.
    Now if you are visiting my country history should be different if you are in Madrid, than in Barcelona, Bilbao or Santiago de Compostela.
    But if you change the country it should be very funny listening about history, wars, kings, etc. being in England or France, Italy and other places.
    There is nothing more untrue than History, so we need to be previously informed about whichever place we are visiting having in mind more or less what we are going to listen.

    One of the persons more interesting telling me history is my wife because she makes it so funny, so amusing that I like her way just a lot.
    Thank you Cuca you will be ever my guide.

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