STORY WRITTEN BY VINCE CAREY
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PHILADELPHIA >> Genghis Khan.
It’s a name that inspires fear. In history class we learn about the brutality, about the man who nearly conquered the world.
Brutal? Sure. Compassionate? Sometimes. Killer of millions? Definitely.
Genghis Khan, like most leaders, is a little more complex.
The complexity is shown in the Franklin Institute’s latest exhibit, “Genghis Khan: Bring the Legend to Life.”
“When I got to (Mongolia), I discovered the Genghis Khan Mongolians know, the one that is supported by facts, is very different than the Genghis Khan we grew up thinking of as a barbarian,” said Don Lessem, the exhibit developer. “In truth, we were the barbarians. Genghis Khan built the largest land empire in the history of the world.
“He gave his people a written language. He gave the world, and his empire, complete freedom of religion, tax breaks for clerics, elections, trial by jury and he brought the East and West together as it never had happened before.”
To many, the history class lessons of Genghis Khan have been erased by popular culture. Khan was portrayed by the very non-Mongolian John Wayne (1956’s “the Conqueror”), Omar Sharif (1965’s “Genghis Khan”) and the “Night at the Museum” movies.
As the exhibit shows, these stories are not entirely true.
To understand Genghis Khan, you first have to understand a bit about Mongolia, a country that is still a bit of a mystery to this day.
After a short video introduction to the life of Genghis Khan, the exhibition plunges you into Mongolia.
The people of Mongolia at the time were organized as nomad tribes. They traveled around the country as the season’s changed, carrying most of their belongings on their back.
When they settled on a spot, they built elaborate tents that contained everything up to and including a kitchen sink.
“They try to find fresher grass for the sheep, for their herds,” said Mongolian native Ashitman, who, along with her husband Ganna, supplied many of the artifacts for the exhibition.
“If they stay in one place for too long, the nature will get polluted. That’s why we travel a lot.”
Genghis Khan (born Temujin) grew up like a typical boy of the time, working with the family and traveling throughout the country. The premature death of his father changed the course of his life.
From there, he took over the world.
“He is the reason we wear pants,” Lessem said. “He is the reason we have passports.”
The Genghis Khan exhibit isn’t the only thing going on at the Franklin Institute. The Lego exhibition “Art of the Brick” runs through Labor Day.
“We are experimenting with a lot of different formats in bringing traveling exhibitions into Philadelphia,” said Franklin Institute President & CEO Larry Dubinski. “You know, we have ‘Art of the Brick’ which is about art and engineering. The great thing about Genghis Khan is it brings in the kind of art, history sector as well. We are trying to do a couple of different things to make sure we can appeal to visitors of all ages and spark their curiosity.”
There is also a full summer of events at the Franklin Institute.
The Science After Hours program opens the museum doors to the over-21 crowd. There is also the rooftop stargazing and the community nights.
Bringing the right exhibit the the Franklin Institute needs a plan of attack.
“It comes on a variety of fronts,” Dubinski said. “We do look the world around for exhibitions and folks obviously come to us. We also do a lot of market testing as well with our visitors. We also look at school curriculums. What are schools teaching that may be supplemented by science and institutions like the Franklin Institute. We have a variety of different metrics we look at to bring to Philadelphia and the Franklin Institute.”
The artifacts throughout the Genghis Khan exhibit feature many of the swords and weaponry of the time. There are some things that have never been made available to the public, like jade jewelry and small carvings.
“We learned about the history and the people,” said Ganna, whose full name is Gankhuyag Natsag and was dressed as Genghis Khan. “About 10 years ago, we talked to the Dalai Lama about building an exhibit about Dalaism and it grew from there.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Genghis Khan: Bring the Legend to Life.” The exhibition features more than 200 artifacts gathered from private collectors in Mongolia, Azerbaijan and the United States.
Where: The Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St., Philadelphia.
When: Now through Jan. 3, 2016. Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The exhibit will be closing early on May 31. Evening hours are 5 to 9 p.m. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Admission: General admission is included in $29.95 for adults, $24.95 for children 3 to 11. Admission during evening hours is $19.95 for adults and $14.95 for children 3 to 11. The last ticket is sold at 7:30 p.m., according to information at www.fi.edu.
Info.: Check www.fi.edu or call (215) 448-1220.