The Bodies in Ben Franklin’s Basement


From 1757 to 1775, Ben Franklin lived in an elegant four-story Georgian house at 36 Craven Street in London while working as an ambassador for the American colonies. In 1998, a group calling itself Friends of Benjamin Franklin House began to convert the dilapidated building into a museum to honor Franklin, whose other home in Philadelphia had been razed in 1812 to make way for new construction.

One month into the renovations, a construction worker named Jim Field was working in the basement when he found something odd: sticking out of the dirt floor, was a human thigh bone.

The police were called and the supervised excavation continued. More human bones were pulled up. Until some 1,200 pieces of bone were recovered. Initial examinations revealed that the bones were the remains of 10 bodies, six of them children, and were a little more than 200 years old. Their age discouraged any interest from Scotland Yard, but piqued the curiosity of historians and the Institute of Archaeology. The bones’ age meant they may have been buried in the basement around the same time that Franklin was living in the house.

Did America put a serial killer on the $100 bill? Almost certainly not. Continued study of the bones revealed that some of the bones had been sawed through. Others bore the marks of a scalpel. A few of the skulls had been drilled into. The evidence pointed not to murder by Franklin, but anatomical study by his friend William Hewson.

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