Much has been made in contemporary culture of the search for “true” heroes. In this age of movie stars, rock stars, sports stars and similarly vapid examples that so command the national interest, not only has the “true hero” gone missing, but it can seem that so has the long shadow of the grand heroes of old.
That impression is banished this month in Oxnard, when the Oxnard Public Library honors the legacy of such a hero, one of America’s greatest — Benjamin Franklin. Oxnard’s is one of only two libraries in all of California to win a visit from Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World, a traveling exhibition that commemorates the 300th anniversary of the legendary American’s birth. The exhibition, which offers a broad variety of Franklin’s artifacts and writings, is punctuated by a series of screenings, appearances and lectures through Feb. 17.
Franklin must surely be counted among the greatest of American heroes — perhaps foremost among American examples of the true polymath, legendary master of many trades, a Renaissance man cut from the cloth of those such as Da Vinci, whose mark upon our world shines indelibly to this day. He was the only founding father to sign all four of the major documents of the founding of the United States (the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris, the Treaty of Alliance with France, and the United States Constitution), an inventor, renowned diplomat (without whose influence with the French, the American Revolution might not have been won), founder of Pennsylvania’s first firefighters’ brigade, author, scientist, inventor, tradesman, and in this case perhaps most notably, founder of the nation’s first public library. He was famously a newspaper editor, publisher and master printer, and as author of Poor Richard’s Almanack, he wisely speaks to us even to this day.
Franklin’s achievements brought him renown across the nation and overseas, yet even at the height of his fame, he continued to sign his name B. Franklin, printer, a nod to the sort of humble virtue that is almost unknown in this day.
By the same token, for his many innovations — which include bifocals, the Franklin stove, the lightning rod, a carriage odometer and the glass armonica — the prolific inventor disdained patents, preferring that the benefit of his work accrue to society. “As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others,” he penned in his autobiography, “we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; this we should do freely and generously.”
“He could have set about only to build himself an empire,” notes Oxnard librarian Karen Schatz, whose efforts brought the noteworthy exhibit to the Gold Coast, “but he wanted to do things for his fellow man, to make the community a better place. He had once written to his mother,” she adds, “I’d rather have it said of me ‘he lived usefully,’ than ‘he died rich.” As with so many of Franklin’s lofty ambitions, his intention was a smashing success, as his usefulness well eclipses his considerable wealth — to heroic proportions — even to this day.
Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World at the Oxnard Public Library, 251 S. A St., Oxnard. For more information, call 385-7532.
Events scheduled for the exhibition:
Thursday, Jan. 14, 6 p.m.
A&E Biography: Benjamin Franklin: Citizen of the World
Saturday, Jan. 16, 3 p.m
George Stuart’s Historical Figures (pictured)
Thursday, Jan. 21, 6 p.m.
Modern Marvels: Ben Franklin Tech
Saturday, Jan. 23, 2 p.m.
William Zeitler, master of the glass armonica
Saturday, Feb. 6, 3 p.m.
Family Movie Matinee: Ben and Me
Saturday, Feb. 17, 3 p.m.
Dr. Nian-Sheng Huang: Benjamin Franklin and Chi