Pennsylvania Memories is a special series marking the turn of the millennium featuring readers' memories of events, experiences, incidents, individuals, innovations or inventions that profoundly affected them or gave them a deep appreciation of personal history.

With the opening of the newly completed Franklin Institute building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadel­phia, I joined the Institute as a student member. This entitled me to the general membership privileges, such as visits to the museum and planetarium at any time, and the use of the library. It also entitled me to attend the monthly evening science lectures in the Institute’s auditorium.

In my lust for scientific knowledge, I attended the lectures on a regular basis. One lecture was on the subject of cryogenics. Another was a demonstration of the making of heavy water given by the world-­renowned physicist, Dr. Harold C. Urey.

As a fourteen­-year-old member of the Franklin Institute, I received an engraved invitation to attend the 1935 Franklin Institute Medallist Dinner at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel on Wednesday, May 15, 1935. Upon seeing the invitation, my writer-historian mother, Aimee Junker MacNeill, knew immediate­ly the importance of this dinner and would serve as my chaperone. The medallist that year was Albert Einstein, who had recently emigrat­ed from Nazi Germany.

Arriving early at the Bellevue-Stratford on the evening of the dinner, we found Dr. Einstein standing alone at the far corner of the nearly empty ballroom, which was next to the dining room. We approached him and had the rare privilege on conversing with the Nobel Laureate before many of the guests arrived. Able to speak French fluently; my mother had little difficulty communicating.

Who could have foreseen then the man – and the path – that I walked beside was destined to lead us into a new age?


Stephen Moylan MacNeill resides at “Barra,” a house he built in Exton, Chester County, in 1946. He and his wife Jeanne Schneider MacNeill, an artist, celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in October 1998. The writer’s mother, Aimee Junker MacNeill, a well known Chester County historian, worked with the Federal Writers projects in the 1930s and later served as executive director of the Catholic Lending Library of Philadelphia. His father, Henry T. MacNeill, was an architect and artist, noted for his pen and ink sketches of historic buildings and structures in southeastern Pennsylvania, several of which are administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Stephen Moylan MacNeill served in the Merchant Marines during World War II. He owns and operates the Stephen Moylan Press in Exton.