Storyteller extraordinaire

South Philly native Samantha Ricchiuti tells stories to families near Independence Hall as part of the Once Upon A Nation program. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

If you spend five minutes with Samantha Ricchiuti, you’re going to learn a lot.

The South Philly native spends her summer afternoons near Independence Hall, telling free historical stories to anyone who will listen. Ricchiuti is an actor with Once Upon A Nation and her warm and outgoing personality lends itself to illustrating some of the greatest stories that built the nation right here in Philadelphia.

Ricchiuti doesn’t just speak about history. She embodies it.

“Storytelling is the oldest form of communication in human history,” said Ricchiuti, who was born in Girard Estate and now lives in Packer Park. “It’s what we did before there was TV and books and movies. We told each other stories. It’s how we connect to each other. And I love being able to talk to people all day long because I’m so extroverted. It really combines a lot of things I love. It’s just a great job for me.”

You can catch Ricchiuti at the Once Upon A Nation bench near the John Barry statue near 6th and Walnut streets on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ricchiuti greets families from all over the country and beyond and lets her acting skills take over, portraying the founding fathers. Actors like Ricchiuti rehearse and train for two months in preparation for an authentic, accurate experience.

“It’s for people of all ages,” Ricchiuti said. “It’s not just for kids although they are the ones that are most eager most of the time. There is so much history here in Philly and it’s always been really interesting to me. Philly is cool and Ben Franklin is the boss.”

Ricchiuti actually auditioned to be Betsy Ross at the Betsy Ross House but didn’t win the part. But management there thought she’d be perfect in her current role. And they were right.

“I was looking at summer jobs and I didn’t want to do another camp,” Ricchiuti said. “I auditioned to be Betsy Ross but when they emailed me back they said unfortunately we can’t have you be Betsy at this time but we’d love to have you as a storyteller if you are interested. And I thought that sounded great to me. It combines all the things I love like education and teaching people about things they don’t know. I also love getting to perform because we act out the stories. It’s interactive and engaging because that’s how you get people to learn and bring them in.”

She takes history and makes it her own, just like she did with her current home in Packer Park. The house belonged to her grandfather and Ricchiuti and her fiancé purchased it from her family. Some modifications followed but the house still has a lot of historic charm.

“My grandfather was very handy so there were things in our house that weren’t in other houses in the neighborhood like a full bathroom in our basement instead of a half bath,” she said. “We even kept a tiny piece of wallpaper from when her grandfather was a boy. It has little boats and planes.”

Ricchiuti’s appreciation for history helps her tell stories with flair for tourists and even some locals. In just a 30-minute span, Ricchiuti spewed historic stories to families from Kentucky, Missouri and Israel.

“Most of our storytellers come from an acting background,” said Jason Greenplate, program manager for Once Upon a Nation. “This is sort of a mix between teaching history and acting so a lot of the storytellers have a deep love of history and a deep love of sharing that history. The extroverted theater people just seem to love sharing these stories.”

Ricchiuti, who studied theater at Rider University, is one of six storytellers on a given day across six locations in the city’s Historic District. As an adventure, guests can visit all six locations and collect two achievement stickers at each place to be placed on a small flag resembling the age of the 13 colonies. Bring the 12 stickers to Franklin Square to earn the final sticker and a certificate for a surprise giveaway.

For those who want to get even more involved, there is a Future Storyteller Program where children can write a story about their favorite historical figure. They could be eligible to go to the Once Upon A Nation benches and tell their story. It begins on Aug. 5 and more information can be found at

Or visitors can just relax and let Ricchiuti do what she does best. The terrific storyteller admits she’s even learning stories as she goes.

“I learned who Commodore Barry is and James Forten and the different buildings around here,” Ricchiuti said. “I’ve learned a lot of interesting facts and I’m constantly telling people the facts I’ve learned. There’s so much history here and there’s so much here that people don’t know that we get to share.”