Today, September 24, 2021, the DowntownDC BID celebrated the reopening of Franklin Park, the five-acre park opposite the Franklin School, where Planet Word is housed. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser oversaw the ribbon-cutting ceremony opening the park once again to the public at noon, and the festivities continue on Saturday, where Planet Word staff will be offering family-friendly, word-oriented activities during the Franklin Block Party. We congratulate the DowntownDC BID and all their partners on completing this project and look forward to many more programming opportunities in this beautifully rehabilitated green space right next door.
From its opening in 1869, the Franklin School has used its location opposite Franklin Square – now renamed Franklin Park – to its advantage. The square offered a leafy haven for science classes and art lessons and other outdoor lessons. At the rear of the school itself, teachers and students created an outdoor garden where they grew flowers and vegetables, a real innovation at the time.
And then there were the important park users and Franklin-area residents: In the late 1890s, Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy, lived a block away. The Secret Garden was my favorite book as a young reader, and in fact my office at the museum is wallpapered with pages from the novel. (Maybe it was the Yorkshire dialect recreated in the novel that stimulated my interest in language – or perhaps it was that they talked to the robin in the garden that made me wonder if animals have language.) And in the 1950s, the inventor of the maser, a precursor to the laser, Charles Townes, came up with his Nobel-prize winning idea while sitting on a bench in Franklin Park and gazing out onto beds of azaleas.
Now, in 2021, we have all sorts of plans to continue the legacy of lifelong learning in the park, by bringing words and language to this verdant space and its meandering paths – and some are all ready to go! A writing journal is tucked away in one of the park benches in the Children’s Garden, and we commissioned a list of synonyms for “walk” to line the paths leading up to the Garden – it will be so fun to see young (and old?) visitors jumping, ambling, skipping, and hopping along – true to Planet Word’s efforts to get the whole body involved in learning.
Words and language are present in other areas of the park, too. Before it was called Franklin Park, it was called Franklin Square, and before that it was called Fountain Square – alluding to underground springs there that supplied the White House drinking water. Appropriately, the newly renovated park pays tribute to that watery heritage. It features a fully restored, working central fountain and several new, smaller water jets. Surrounding the fountain plaza are inscriptions of poetry about wellsprings from four different eras, dating back to words from the Native Americans who first settled in the area.
How special for us to be part of this history of innovation and beauty, a wellspring of creativity that we hope to continue into the future. We hope that on your next visit to Planet Word, you’ll take the time to enjoy the new and improved Franklin Park and reflect upon our intertwined histories.
—Ann Friedman, founder, Planet Word