The Month of Two Bens

Posted by Joseph D'Agnese

One flew kites. The other had a ball with leeches.

Everyone knows Ben Franklin. Americans celebrate his 306th birthday on Jan. 17th. Another Ben—Dr. Benjamin Rush—is lesser known but nevertheless played a pivotal role in American history. His 267th birthday is Jan. 4th.

Quirk’s home city of Philadelphia is gearing up for two celebrations this month that pay tribute to the two men.

This Wednesday, Jan. 4th, historic Christ Church is holding a special ceremony at their famous graveyard to bless Rush’s grave. That event starts at 11 AM at the Burial Ground at 5th and Arch Streets. After the blessing, guides will conduct tours of the famous cemetery, which boasts the graves of five signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Rush, a doctor who is known as the father of American psychiatry, was a fascinating if controversial figure in early American history. His medical practices seem, um, wacky by modern standards. His treatment for unstable individuals? Strap them into his “tranquilizing chair,” and lock a box over their heads until they calm down. (See it here)

Rush was known for his liberal use of leeches to suck blood from the sick. When a few of Rush’s overzealous students bled George Washington to death during his final illness, Rush came under fire for his methods. (Rush was no supporter of Washington and even covertly worked to oust him from command of the Continental Army during the dark days of the Revolutionary War.)

As you might imagine, Philadelphia is devoting considerably more fanfare to Franklin’s birthday — with a parade, grave ceremony, and a free seminar on Jan. 20th.

Franklin’s grave is one of the most-visited attractions in the city. People stand outside the walls of the cemetery and fling pennies on Ben’s grave in honor of his famous maxim: “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

If you’re in the neighborhood, we hope you’ll visit Quirk’s neighbors at Christ Church. If you do, be on the lookout for the Quirk Books Signing Their Lives Away and Signing Their Rights Away, which tell the stories of the odd collection of men who created this nation. Both volumes are sold at the Church’s two retail locations.