Re-enactor brings George Washington to life

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - The town criers spotted the former president exiting his truck and hustled to spread the exciting news.

“It’s Lincoln! Lincoln’s here!”

Correction: The tall guy in buff-color breeches, stockings and tri-corner hat is actually Gen. George Washington.

Details. “The president’s here! The president’s here!”

David Wallace is used to the celebrity of his alter-ego, which is his personal favorite and the most popular of the 15 historical characters - including Pikes Peak namesake Zebulon Pike - that he performs at schools, visitor’s centers, churches and service clubs along the Front Range. Recently, Wallace spoke in character to a pair of fifth-grade classes at Evangelical Christian Academy, helping bring to life the students’ current studies on the Revolutionary War.

Wallace, 69, expects curiosity - and some confusion - about the costume, deeds and personality of the fledgling nation’s first elected leader.

It’s understandable. Pop culture representation of Washington is threadbare, especially compared with other founding fathers and legendary commanders in chief.

“A new book comes out every week on Lincoln,” said Wallace, who developed his take on the first president’s nature by reading biographies, official documents and correspondence. “Washington never talked about himself, so to talk about myself as Washington when he didn’t is very difficult.”

Also, Wallace has found that knowledge of early U.S. history isn’t as strong among older students as it once was.

“High schools don’t usually cover anything before the Civil War. This bothered me when I was a teacher,” Wallace said. “There’s more of an emphasis on modern history.”

A Colorado Springs native, Wallace discovered his current calling about seven years ago after retiring from a 40-year career teaching high school history.

“I was looking for something to do and a teacher invited me to come speak about George Washington at a grade school,” said Wallace, who also volunteers at the Springs Rescue Mission. It was the first and last time he gave the talk in street clothes. “I just didn’t feel like the kids were getting into it as much. Here’s just a guy talking. But in costume, in uniform, it really makes a difference, especially for the grade school kids.”

The second time Wallace was asked to deliver a talk about Washington, he rented a costume. But when demand for his talks began to rise, the expense of renting no longer made sense. Wallace decided to invest in a custom-made, period-correct costume, a $2,400 museum-quality piece.

To afford the purchase, Wallace cashed in three of his childhood heroes.

“I saved all my baseball cards I bought as a kid in the 1950s and, when I decided to do this, I sold my most valuable cards,” said Wallace, who now charges a small speaking fee to help cover his travel and dry-cleaning expenses. “My George Washington outfit is from Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson. They were in mint condition, 60 years old. In a way, I traded my childhood passion for my retirement passion.”

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