Pulse: Media: Let Me Tell You About Betsy Ross

In March, when the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. announced that a gaggle of bell-ringing, bench-­hogging storytellers — trained at the ­Benstitute — would be stationed around Independence Mall this summer, we had one question.

What the hell is the Benstitute?

Proclaimed as the training ground for the new raconteurs — who’ll tell their tales from 14 strategically located benches in the city’s historic area — the Benstitute is a three-week program that trains its storytellers not only to spin a decent yarn, but also to serve as civic ambassadors to jumpy tourists. History professors from local schools teach the Philly History 101. Veteran historic reenactors such as Ralph Archbald (below) teach storytelling techniques. And local hospitality gurus teach how to be professionally nice. Upon graduation, the storytellers should be able to explain the historical significance of Washington Square and tell you which appetizers to avoid at Buddakan.

But while the Benstitute was created to train Philly’s storytellers, tourism officials admit they have loftier ambitions: They want the city to become a mecca for heritage tourism pros from around the country. Says Meryl Levitz, CEO of the GPTMC, “If you want to be a chef, you have to go to the Culinary Institute of America. We’d like to see Philadelphia become the place you have to come when you have to be trained in this.”