Jack Sherry as Ben Franklin at the New-York Historical Society
Have you ever wanted to ask Ben Franklin about his infamous kite experiment? Or his time as the first United States Ambassador to France? Or maybe just how to play a good game of chess? The real founding father may be gone, but you might forget that while speaking to Jack Sherry, an American History teacher at Paramus Catholic High School in Paramus, NJ who doubles as a Benjamin Franklin re-enactor. On July 4th Sherry will be here, speaking about life in 1776 and sharing some of Benjamin Franklin’s best stories, so we asked him about his life as a Franklin re-enactor, and their shared love of puns!
How did you get into historical re-enactment?
I got into historical re-enacting back in 1980 when I saw a group of re-enactors at the John Jay Homestead in Katonah, NY. I became Ben Franklin about 8 years ago, when a fellow teacher said to me “You know when you turn your head a certain way, you remind me of Ben Franklin.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Your wife, Celeste, is often with you, portraying Ben’s wife, Deborah Franklin. How did you start doing re-enacting together?We got into re-enacting together in 1980 when we joined De Lancey’s Brigade, a recreated Loyalist unit (Americans who stayed loyal to the king and remained on the British side, sometimes referred to as “Tories”). We joined the Loyalist side because we were told that there are never enough of the enemy at many battle re-eanctments and we would always be welcome to participate. During the Bicentennial celebrations from 1975 to 1983 often there were too many “patriots” and not enough British. This still holds true today. We also portray the “other side” because today too often our history books and classes only present one side of history. It gives a more balanced view of history.
My wife portrayed a campfollower, a woman who followed the army. She later formed a recreated eighteenth-century theater troupe which she called The American Company of Players. The Continental Congress banned theater groups on the American side during the war so it was only logical to be on the British side. The officers in the British army during the American Revolution were very active in producing and perfoming in theatrical productions. My wife still portrays an actress following the army when she is not portraying Deborah Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s wife. She has a lot of fun with her Deborah Franklin portrayal.
What kind of research goes into portraying Ben Franklin? Do you try to figure out what his personality was like?
I am constantly reading books on Ben Franklin. I intend to read his papers someday. Ben had a very warm and open personality. He loved to learn new things and meet new people.
What’s your favorite bit of knowledge about Ben Franklin?
He and I share a love of puns. My favorite Poor Richard quote is “Three can keep a secret, if two are dead.”
What do you hope people walk away with after encountering you in costume?
That they will understand something about Ben that they didn’t know before they met me.
Are there any funny stories or interactions you’d like to share?
While attending a fundraiser where there was colonial dancing someone asked me why I wasn’t dancing. I replied “Gout.” He said that’s right you had gout! At another fundraiser someone asked me what I thought of the Clintons (this was when Hilary Clinton was running for the Democratic Presidential nomination). I replied that I thought that George Clinton was a wonderful governor of New York and that I had an “Erie” sense that his nephew Dewitt Clinton would make a wonderful governor someday (DeWitt Clinton, as New York governor built the Erie Canal. See? Another pun!)
And check out ABC’s interview with Mr. Sherry (err…Franklin) on July 4!