(Benjamin Franklin Statue, Covered in Chocolate Syrup and Rainbow Feathers, credit to Martin College Library Archives)

They’re easy to miss. If one was dashing to class, or frantically attempting to print something in the Shadek-Fackenthal College Library, they could easily overlook the Benjamin Franklin and John Marshall Statues, placed between Old Main and Keiper on the far end of campus at Franklin and Marshall College. As the first outdoor sculptures at F&M, these two statues hold a rich and meaningful artistic history on the campus. Furthermore, as F&M contends with the horrors and atrocities committed by its slave-owning namesakes, the statues represent a tumultuous future. 

To understand why F&M even has statues of John Marshall and Benjamin Franklin, one must return to the college’s initial naming. Franklin gave a significant financial contribution of 200 pounds to the college’s founding. Even though Franklin provided the college with a handsome endowment, Marshall’s name appears to have been tied through the 1853 merger that made Franklin College and Marshall College into Franklin and Marshall College. Thus, Marshall did not financially support either the original university or the post-merger iteration. 

In the 1980s, F&M wanted to incorporate more collegiate traditions into campus life. The solution? Construct a statue commemorating the college’s namesakes and the then approaching bicentennial celebration. “Ben-in-the-Box,” as the Benjamin Franklin statue was quickly nicknamed, was originally commissioned in 1983 by the college’s Philadelphia Regional Alumni Club. It was the college’s first statue and opened the artistic floodgates for later contemporary sculpture. Weighing half a ton, although it’s never polite to comment on someone’s weight, statuesque or not, the statue was meant to be tangible evidence of the college’s connection to Benjamin Franklin. Although one could potentially argue that Franklin’s connection and involvement in America’s slave-owning past was not well or widely known in the 1980s, this still raises the question of how, in the present day when this information is known, Franklin and Marshall College will address the contentious question of these statues’ presence on campus. 

(Classified Ad Calling for Open Sculpture Submissions, credit to Phillips Museum)

After a lengthy process with over 70 applicants to select a sculptor, Arlene Love, who is now 93 years old and still active and award-winning throughout the artistic world, was selected for both her lifelike portrayal of Franklin, in both appearance and size, but also her usage of symbolic elements with quotes and a carved key. In 1986, the statue was unveiled in a dedication ceremony, and Franklin made his home in front of the Shadek-Fackenthal College Library.

(Arlene Love Constructing Molds of the Benjamin Franklin Statue, credit to Phillips Museum)

(Rough Sketch of John Marshall Statue, credit to Phillips Museum)

(Rough Sketch of John Marshall Statue, credit to Phillips Museum)

(Unveiling and Ceremony of John Marshall Statue, credit to Martin College Library Archives)

(Dedication Ceremony Pamphlet for Benjamin Franklin Statue, credit to Phillips Museum)

Several years later, to give Franklin a companion and represent both of the college’s namesakes, a John Marshall statue was commissioned by Arlene Love and funded with the assistance of the 1999 senior class. In 2010, the Marshall statue was moved away from Keiper to sit next to the Franklin statue. The moving was costly, as it necessitated renting a crane to move the statue, as well as constructing new bases. 

(The College Reporter article covering the Call for Senior Gift Donations, credit to Martin College Library Archives)

While the statues were constructed to generate a sense of college pride in tradition, over the years a different sort of tradition has emerged. Along with frequent public urination on the statues – an advisory warning to anyone who walks across campus with toddlers who may want to touch the ground-level statues. Students have also “tarred and feathered” them with chocolate syrup and rainbow-colored feathers. One Halloween saw Franklin with a pumpkin hat and Frankenstein mask. These interactions with the statues were likely not in protest, but, in the past several years, red paint has been splattered upon each one.

(Benjamin Franklin Statue with Pumpkin Hat and Frankenstein Mask, credit to Martin College Library Archives)

One possible course forward is to move the statues into the Phillips Museum and contextualize both their history at F&M and the history of those whom the statues depict. Or, if moving the statues is too costly an endeavor, signage providing similar contextualization could be posted around the statues. Art classes could also incorporate further discussion surrounding the statues, and expanding, not erasing, what it means for F&M to have such statues on campus; their past, present, and future. Whichever pathway is chosen, undoubtedly, the statues were made for a different F&M, one with less access and understanding to a past that is horrifying, difficult, and uncomfortable, but absolutely necessary to deal with moving forward respectfully. 

Thank you to the staff and faculty at Martin College Library Archives and the Phillips Museum for their time and resources in researching archival material.

Sophomore Teagan Durkin is the opinions editor. Their email is tdurkin@fandm.edu.