news

At 88, she crashed a VIP event to meet Joe Biden | We the People

Stephanie Farr, Staff Writer

Updated: Wednesday, January 3, 2018, 5:00 AM

Elaine Peden, 88, of Frankford, with a copy of the proclamation that certified William and Hannah Penn as honorary citizens of the United States.

When Elaine Peden found out that former Vice President Joe Biden was speaking at the opening of Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution in April, she vowed to make it to the ceremony.

An article about Elaine Peden's fascination with William Penn in the March 30, 1979 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia Inquirer
Elaine Peden, 88, of Frankford, with a copy of the proclamation that certified William and Hannah Penn as honorary citizens of the United States. Stephanie Farr
Elaine Peden has so much William Penn memorabilia that it fills an entire room of her house - and the closet within the room. Stephanie Farr
Elaine Peden, 88, of Frankford, dedicated 10 years of her life to getting William and Hannah Penn named honorary citizens of the United States. Stephanie Farr
Grand opening of the Museum of the American Revolution that Elaine Peden crashed. MICHAEL BRYANT
The letter former Vice President Joe Biden wrote to Elaine Peden. Stephanie Farr
A statute of William Penn that doubles as a flask. Elaine Peden recently left a similar statute as a present for Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen. Stephanie Farr
Anthony Pino
Photo Gallery: At 88, she crashed a VIP event to meet Joe Biden | We the People

Peden, 88, had a bone to pick with Biden. She’d mailed him a package about a month prior and he hadn’t written her back yet.

The gall!

So Peden, who is one sassy grandmother, left her Frankford home and got on the El to ask him why. She didn’t have an invitation or a ticket. But Peden owned a Frankford bar-turned-disco for 35 years — and getting to a former vice president couldn’t be harder work than that.

The package Peden sent to Biden’s house — she got his address from his neighbor, a fellow member of the mandolin orchestra she’s played in for 50 years — contained newspaper clippings and documents that detailed her campaign to get William and Hannah Penn named honorary citizens of the United States.

An article about Elaine Peden's fascination with William Penn in the March 30, 1979 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In 1984 — after Peden had spent 10 years and $10,000 of her own money — President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation declaring William and Hannah Penn honorary U.S. citizens, a distinction that’s only been bestowed upon eight people in history, including Winston Churchill and St. Teresa of Calcutta.

But despite her efforts, Peden wasn’t invited to the signing marking the Penns’ honorary citizenship.

“I didn’t even get a pen,” she said, referring to the tradition of presidents giving away pens they use to sign proclamations.

Elaine Peden, 88, of Frankford, with a copy of the proclamation that certified William and Hannah Penn as honorary citizens of the United States.

Peden’s love affair with William and Hannah Penn began with a visit to the top of City Hall in the 1970s. She noticed the room where people wait for the elevator was in disrepair, so she got schoolchildren to create Penn-related art and decorated the room with it.

Now, those artworks and the more than 400 pieces of Penn memorabilia Peden owns are all in a single room of her house, which she refers to as the Penn museum.

Elaine Peden has so much William Penn memorabilia that it fills an entire room of her house - and the closet within the room.

Peden has worked at two real Philly museums — the Betsy Ross House, where she was on staff until the age of 82, and the now-shuttered Pretzel Museum.

“I love dealing with people, and I love telling people where to go besides hell,” she said.

What Peden doesn’t love: Benjamin Franklin. She feels he gets more love from the city — and history — than Penn, and it upsets her that the Penn statue atop City Hall is often mistaken for Franklin.

“Ben Franklin was a degenerate,” she said. “He could publish whatever bull he wanted. Who would stop him?”

As Peden approached the Museum of the American Revolution on opening day, she sweet-talked a police officer who tried to stop her. Then she sweet-talked her way into getting a VIP wristband.

It doesn’t hurt that Peden is 88, adorable, and indomitable.

Elaine Peden, 88, of Frankford, dedicated 10 years of her life to getting William and Hannah Penn named honorary citizens of the United States.

Peden sat quietly as Biden gave “a wonderful speech.” When the ceremony ended, several VIPs, including Biden and Ed Rendell, walked up the museum steps for a private tour. Peden followed.

“This woman was standing at the door and she said, ‘What party are you with?’ and I said, ‘Biden’s,’ and she said ‘Go ahead,'” Peden recalled.

She watched the VIP group walk up two flights of steps.

“I didn’t want to ask for an elevator because I’d lose them,” Peden said. “So I climbed the steps. Thank God I had my cane with me!”

Grand opening of the Museum of the American Revolution that Elaine Peden crashed.

In a dimmed theater, where the group watched a short film about Valley Forge, a federal agent told her: “As soon as those lights go on, make your move,” Peden recalled.

And she did, introducing herself to Biden.

“He said ‘Oh, my God!’ and put his arms around me and said, ‘What you did was fabulous!’ I said, ‘You read it?’ and he said, ‘I sure did.’ ” she said.

Before she let Biden go, Peden had another request: She asked him to write her a letter so her friends and family would believe they met. When that letter did not arrive in what Peden felt was a timely manner, she wrote again, reminding him of the request.

Two weeks later, the phone rang. It was Biden. A handwritten note from the former vice president arrived at her door in October.

The letter former Vice President Joe Biden wrote to Elaine Peden.

It was signed: “We are indebted to you. Joe Biden.”

A few weeks ago, Peden took a ceramic statute of William Penn with a twist-top hat that reveals a secret flask to the Comcast building and left it with a security guard who promised he would deliver it Comcast senior executive vice president David L. Cohen.

Peden mentioned that she still hasn’t received a thank-you card for the gift yet.

We suggest Cohen get on that.

A statute of William Penn that doubles as a flask. Elaine Peden recently left a similar statute as a present for Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen.

Why Philadelphia?

“Well, it’s my birthplace. I was born here, and you should promote from where you come.”

What’s been a classic Philly moment for you?

“A classic Philly moment was the day I met Vice President Joe Biden. … I crashed a party.”

If you had a wish for the city, what would it be?

“More togetherness and really call it the city of brotherly and sisterly love, which it lacks today. We’ve got to come together in peaceful negotiations.”

Want more We the People? Last week’s profile: Bucks County native Tracy Locke is one half of Girls Gone Green, a Philadelphia Eagles song parody duo. From Dec. 20: Every Christmas season, Benjamin Franklin impersonator Robert DeVitis gets into character to ring the red kettle bell for the Salvation Army. From Dec. 13: Hip-hop Grandpop Matt Hopkins busts holiday dance moves at City Hall. From Dec. 6: People pay $1 just to take a photo of Anthony Smith and his dogs, Noodles and Diva. Smith takes his well-dressed dogs to events around the city in his bicycle basket. From Nov. 29: Danie Ocean is a musician with a rare eye disease that’s left her legally blind, is one of the founders of a co-op music studio that requires its members to do community service. From Nov. 22: Nearly every day for 17 years, oil painter Mark Campana has hauled his easel from his home in South Philadelphia to Rittenhouse Square to paint scenes in and around the park. From Nov. 15: Haircuts 4 Homeless barber Brennon Jones continues to serve people who are homeless at his new barbershop, which was given to him by a stranger who was inspired by his mission. From Nov. 8: Street performers Eli Capella and Seraiah Nicole create music in real time that’s inspired by the people who pass them on the streets of Philadelphia. From Nov. 1: John Sebastian, the maintenance director at Reading Terminal Market, was a steel drummer who toured with a Caribbean orchestra and jammed with Jimmy Buffett.

Stephanie Farr, Staff Writer

Read full story: At 88, she crashed a VIP event to meet Joe Biden | We the People

More Coverage:

Philly bladesmith brings his ancient craft to Instagram

She grew up on Tastykakes, and now she's creating them. But not every treat is a hit.

West Oak Lane native hosts Discovery channel show with puns and Tom Brady burns

After decades as a cop, he became a yoga teacher

Grandma guards risqué exhibits at Penn art institute

Bucks County Batman fights petty crime in a $12k Batsuit

His day job is masonry. But on the festival circuit, he runs a lucrative trade in Jello shots

Old City busker promotes love with his signs and his sax, Miss Nasty

A Firefighter's Journal: 'One of the best-kept secrets of 37 years is that nobody knew'

Society Hill's 'Queen of Sushi' says she invented the Philadelphia roll

Pennsylvania Ballet pianist has kept the score for 45 years

Couple's historic Philly home came with an unusual caveat: Annual battle reenactments

Rittenhouse Square has 89 trash cans, 139 benches and 1 man to clean them all

Delco man can catch marshmallows, with his mouth, thrown from the Ben Franklin Bridge

'Philly Plant Guy' has 200 plants in his South Philly rowhome

In a quest to preserve the peculiar, this couple's antique shop is Bella Vista's Narnia

South Philly brothers tackle the Eagles' dirty laundry

For 35 years, Logan Hotel doorman has had a window into Philly

Japanese House's new head gardener is ready for his first Cherry Blossom Festival

'You don’t look like a scientist': Philly forensics expert busts crimes and stereotypes

Independence Park's longest-serving curator knows some historical secrets. But he won't tell

North Philly dance teacher 'brought the arts to the hood'

This longtime Italian Market butcher has a meat-cute story

She helped make William Penn a citizen, crashed an event to meet Joe Biden, and doesn't care for Ben Franklin

Slam poetry league founder: 'Teachers can't afford to be quiet' about race

Haircuts 4 Homeless barber opens shop gifted to him by a stranger

Philly's Wing Bowl chef: 'The roar of that crowd was unlike anything I’ve ever heard'

How recovery advocates live 'brotherly love' instead of 'just using the words'

Philly dog channeling 'The Art of War' has an army of Twitter followers

Comedians write song parodies supporting the Eagles