Originally created 05/21/05

Museum picks science fiction over the real thing



BOSTON - The Empire has struck again. This time, Benjamin Franklin is staring down the business end of Darth Vader's light saber.

Boston's Museum of Science has passed on a chance to showcase a traveling exhibit celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Franklin, who was born and grew up here before moving to Philadelphia at age 17.

The museum says it can't accommodate the $6 million, 3,000-square-foot tribute to the Founding Father because it is opening a large "Star Wars" exhibit instead this summer.

The museum is hosting the world premiere of "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination," which explores the real science behind the fiction in George Lucas' blockbuster movies, including Luke Skywalker's antigravity "landspeeder" and his trusty robot R2-D2. The last installment in Lucas' six-part epic, "Episode III - Revenge of the Sith," opened this week.

"'Star Wars' really ties into the museum's new vision of incorporating more technology and engineering," said museum spokeswoman Carole McFall. "We're not talking about science fiction. There is real-world technology in the exhibit."

The "Star Wars" exhibit's six-month run starts Oct. 27, which made it impossible for the museum to accommodate "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World" early next year, she said.

"It's kind of an unusually long run," McFall said. "A lot of time and effort will be focused on it."

Some Franklin-philes are disappointed that the museum is shining a spotlight on "Star Wars" at the expense of one of the nation's most important contributors to both science and government. Franklin was known for his study of electricity, and practical inventions including bifocal eyeglasses and the lightning rod.

"It's too bad that Boston won't have this exhibit," said Robert Allison, who chairs the history department at Suffolk University. "I don't think there's any Bostonian who has had the impact on the country or the world than Franklin did."

The Franklin exhibit opens in Philadelphia on Dec. 15 at the National Constitution Center. Boston was supposed to be its second stop before heading to St. Louis, Houston, Denver, Atlanta and Paris, said Rosalind Remer, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary.

Remer said her group first approached the Museum of Science three years ago. The museum agreed in writing to host the Franklin exhibit, but that letter wasn't binding, Remer said. It wasn't until last summer that the museum informed Remer it wouldn't be signing a contract.

"It's a perfectly legitimate thing for a museum to decide," she said. "I don't have any gripe with it."

By the time the museum finally passed, Remer said it was too late to find another museum to host the Franklin exhibit, which features his walking stick, his signed copy of the Treaty of Paris, the odometer he invented and a display on his discovery of electricity.

"You don't just stumble into an 8,000-square-foot, climate-controlled, high-security place," Remer said.

McFall said the museum plans to celebrate Franklin with a play and a special exhibit in its Theater of Electricity.

On the Net:

"Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination": http://www.mos.org/doc/1293

The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary: http://www.benfranklin300.com/index.php