By Pat Young
For Hometown News
Jan. 17 might not mean anything to some people, but to Vernon Weidner it is the birthday of one of the founding fathers of our country -- a printer, an inventor, a statesman and an important part of American history.
Mr. Weidner, a Ben Franklin impersonator and fervent admirer of the man, has been endeavoring to get Ben Franklin's birthday on the calendar, not as a holiday, he said, but as a tribute to this figurehead in our history.
Mr. Weidner's home in South Daytona, where he lives with his wife, Heidi, is filled with examples of his many interests, from several aquariums of fish to fancy musical clocks. But it is obvious where his major interest is when he talks about Ben Franklin and pulls out reams of articles and memorabilia, including a Ben Franklin coin collection, medallions, and "Ben Franklin Week" proclamations made through his efforts in Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach and South Daytona.
He is planning a Ben Franklin exhibit at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 724 Big Tree Road in South Daytona, at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 17. The public is welcome to attend, and Mr. Weidner will be on hand in his hand-tailored Ben Franklin costume for the event.
As a Ben Franklin impersonator, he does programs at schools, churches, libraries and clubs. His hope is to acquire a motor home to travel the country in a mobile Ben Franklin museum, complete with videos and memorabilia, and of course, his own extensive knowledge. He is looking for sponsors to help him finance the project, and would put ads on the motor home for those who sponsor him. He can be contacted at (386) 366-3704 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr. Weidner's interest in Ben Franklin goes back to his school days. His father was a printer and he was interested in printing, so he chose Ben Franklin because he was a printer when he had to write a report. At the age of 17, on his own time and with his own money, he printed a booklet on things people didn't know about Ben Franklin. His writings won first place in a national contest and caught the attention of Henry Ford, who sent him a $100 bill with Ben Franklin's face on it. Mr. Weidner used the money to start his own printing business in the basement of his parent's home in Baltimore.
When they moved to Virginia, he took the business with him and worked at the "Jefferson Press" until he moved to Florida in 1968. His booklet was put on display in the Dearborn Museum.
There are a few things Mr. Weidner and Mr. Franklin have in common, in addition to German heritage. Both were born in Massachusetts and both were printers. The most common piece of knowledge most people have about Ben Franklin is him flying a kite with a key attached, and discovering electricity. But there are many things people don't know about him, a fact Mr. Weidner hopes to change.
Ben Franklin published the first German language newspaper in America. He was Speaker of the Pennsylvania House in May 1764. Not only was he born on the 17th, but he ran away from home on the 17th and had 17 major inventions, including the battery, bifocals, flexible catheter, rocking chair and the Franklin stove. He was 17 different things in his life, from a husband and father to an inventor, ambassador, postmaster, and founder of the University of Pennsylvania.
When he invented the glass armonica, an instrument composed of a series of glass bowls on a rotating spindle, he created a stir in Vienna. Many composers there in the late 18th century wrote music for it.
Ben Franklin wrote his own epitaph, part of which reads: "The body of Ben Franklin, Printer (like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and 'stript' of its lettering and gilding) lies here. But the work shall not be lost, for it will (as he believed) appear once more, in a new and more elegant edition."