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The Franklin Institute from “National Treasure”

Nov 16th, 2016 | By | Category: Movie Locations

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I am not a fan of museums.  Like at all.  My dislike stems mainly from the fact that, if given the choice, I’d much prefer to be outdoors than indoors.  There were quite a few on my list of must-see places in Philadelphia, though, including Eastern State Penitentiary (which I wouldn’t even really classify as a museum – you can read my post on it here), the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia (which I will be blogging about soon), and The Franklin Institute.  My desire to see the latter was not due to its exhibits or artifacts, but because it was featured in a scene in National Treasure.  Not just any scene, either – my favorite scene from the 2004 adventure flick.  So the Grim Cheaper and I headed over there during our second day in the City of Brotherly Love.

The Franklin Institute was founded by engineer Samuel Vaughan Merrick in 1824.  Yes, you read that right – 1824.  The original headquarters, which was built in 1826, still stands today.  Located at 15 South 7th Street, it currently houses the Philadelphia History Museum at The Atwater Kent.  The Institute moved to its current home, a Classical Beaux-Arts building (pictured below) located at 222 North 20th Street, in 1934.

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Designed by architect John T. Windrim, the looming exterior of The Franklin Institute was constructed out of Indiana limestone and Milford pink granite.

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The sprawling four-story museum, which Eyewitness Travel states is “the oldest science and technology institute in continuous use in North America,” is comprised of countless exhibits including a simulated train factory, a 5,000-square-foot interactive Giant Heart, a four-story Foucault’s Pendulum, an air show, three theatres, and a planetarium.  The museum is also the site of the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial – a 21-foot-tall marble statute of the inventor sculpted by James Earle Fraser that sits perched in the middle of the central rotunda.

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The rotunda, also designed by Windrim, was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and measures 82 feet in height, length, and width.

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The space’s impressive domed ceiling weighs a whopping 1,600 tons.

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It is at The Franklin Institute in National Treasure that Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) – my favorite character – solves an Ottendorf cipher, along with some help from “Museum Kid” (Yves Beneche) and the Silence Dogood letters.  Filming took place both outside . . .

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. . . and inside the museum.

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Though the Silence Dogood letters are, in fact, a legitimate piece of American history, they are not housed at The Franklin Institute.  From everything I have read online, the original letters no longer exist, though you can read their content here.  For the shoot, filmmakers altered the rotunda, positioning large wooden cases displaying the letters in between the columns just to the right (north) of the Benjamin Franklin statue.

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The area where the display cases were set up is pictured below.

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In the scene, Riley waits for Museum Kid across the street from The Franklin Institute at the Aero Memorial in Aviator Park.

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Designed by Paul Manship in 1948, the Aero Memorial honors Philadelphia aviators killed in action during World War I.

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Though the Kid is shown running back and forth from Riley to the museum via a crosswalk linking The Franklin Institute to the memorial, there is no such crosswalk in real life.

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Google Street View imagery from 2007 does show remnants of crosswalk paint in that spot, though.  I am not sure if a crosswalk was once located there or if one was painted in for the shoot and vestiges of it remained visible for several years after the fact.  It would be pretty darn cool if that was the case, though!  [Something very similar happened with the parking spot lines painted in front of the house used as Wendy’s (Courteney Cox’s) residence in Bedtime Stories.]

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The Aero Memorial looks a bit different in person, which threw me off completely.  I could not for the life of me figure out where Riley sat in the scene.  And there was nothing I wanted to do more than pose for a photo in that exact spot!

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I knew Riley had been seated on a standalone bench that faced The Franklin Institute in National Treasure, but could find no such bench on the premises.  That and the missing crosswalk led me to wonder if Riley’s portion of the scene had been filmed elsewhere and just made to look as if it was shot across from the museum.  I needed screen captures to provide clarification, but, unfortunately, had not bought any with me to Philadelphia.  Enter my friend Owen, of the When Write Is Wrong blog.  I texted to ask if he had done any research on the location and if he happened to have any screen captures he could forward my way, and he sent over an email immediately, with a slew of screen grabs attached.  Thank you, Owen!  As it turns out, Riley’s bench doesn’t exist.  I am not sure if the bench was a prop brought in for filming or if it was a real portion of the memorial that has since been removed.  Either way, it is not there today, sadly.

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So while I couldn’t sit in the same spot that Riley sat, I could certainly stand there!

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For those wishing to do the same, Riley’s bench in the scene was set up in the southern portion of the memorial, in the area denoted with a pink X in the photograph below.

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The Franklin Institute was also the site of a party in the Season 1 episode of Do No Harm titled “Me Likey.”

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For more stalking fun, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Los Angeles magazine and Discover Los Angeles.

Big THANK YOU to Owen, from the When Write Is Wrong blog, for helping me to pinpoint the exact spot where Riley sat.  Smile

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Until next time, Happy Stalking!  Smile

Stalk It: The Franklin Institute from National Treasure is located at 222 North 20th Street in Philadelphia’s Logan Square neighborhood.  You can visit the museum’s official website here.  Admission tickets are not required to see the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, where National Treasure was filmed.  The spot where Riley sat in the movie can be found directly across the street at the Aero Memorial.

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One comment

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  1. Owen says:

    Are we ever going to find out what was on page 47?


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