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A haunting California ghost town; Ben Franklin’s new lair

A haunting California ghost townBodie, Calif., is “a monument to failure,” said Erin Sherbert in SF Weekly. A ghost town in the Sierra foothills, Bodie has now spent half a century in a state of arrested decay, its old saloons, hotels, and whorehouses maintained by the state parks department just enough to be safe and keep standing. On the day I visited, “it was crowded for a ghost town,” with other tourists milling about silently among the boarded-up buildings. Named after a prospector who struck gold in 1859, Bodie once was one of the Gold Rush’s rare success stories. It boomed on mining riches, then devolved quickly into “real Wild West stuff”—daily murders, gunfights, and holdups. There’s a small museum in Bodie today, but no commercial operations. You just walk around, peeking through windows at the remains of lives past: “faded newspapers on a desk, broken bottles above a bar stool, eerie caskets sprawled unevenly throughout the town mortuary.”

Ben Franklin’s new lairThe thoroughly reimagined Benjamin Franklin Museum in Philadelphia “would wow Franklin himself,” said Diane W. Stoneback in the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call. Formerly known as the Underground Museum—because it’s hidden under historic Franklin Court—this singular shrine to the inventor, scientist, statesman, and Founding Father now hums with multimedia displays. “But the museum is much more than techno-thrills.” Fun as it is to listen to anecdotes drawn from Franklin’s letters, or to play “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on a facsimile of an instrument he invented, a visit offers a glimpse of the man in full. Franklin had an “always-on brain,” evident in various inventions—bifocals, lightning rods, swim fins. A small chess set “looms large” among the museum’s collection of personal artifacts. Franklin insisted that the game made him a far better statesman, and his passion for the game often kept him up deep into the night.

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