Step right up and meet the man who, some say, is the greatest man in American history — George Washington. Though, you will actually be meeting George Fairfax, the man who portrays Washington for a living. Originally from Virginia, Fairfax lives and breathes Washington and will transport you through time to a place where the General is the most respected man in the country.
Catch him and other American heroes at the American Heritage Festival, the largest living history event in the Southwest, Nov. 23-24 at Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek. Attendees will enjoy dramatic portrayals of famous men and women from Colonial times through the Vietnam era. There will also be live historic music, an historic fashion show, merchants offering a unique shopping experience, and battle reenactments.
Q: You portray George Washington for a living. How long have you been doing it and what does it take to be George Washington?
A: I have been portraying George Washington for approximately 15 years. I have a background in professional speaking and acting, and I have always admired him. I did a lot of studying to portray this role, because it is like acting combined with education. I read a lot of books about him as well as first-person accounts and personal writings or writing by people who knew him. You are basically a living historian.
Q: What kind of time and effort goes into replicating Washington’s clothing and weaponry?
A: First, we research the clothing of the time period, then we find materials — natural materials like wool — and we also look at the patterns that were worn in the era. Finally, individual craftsmen from across the nation create close copies of the clothing. I use a sword that is a replica of Washington’s favorite sword. It was made by an individual craftsman as well.
Q: As far as personal upkeep, what steps do you take in your everyday life to portray Washington’s mannerisms and appearance?
A: When choosing a person to portray, it is important to pick someone you are closely related to (visually). I happen to be the same height and weight as Washington, and I have even grown my own hair out to match his. There aren’t any recordings of him, so I have studied his personal writings as well as visited the area that he grew up in, listening to the people who live there now to try to pick up on their accents and speech.
Q: Is there a specific time in Washington’s life when you admire him most?
A: I really do admire Washington across the board, but, like most of us, he really did grow and mature over time. A couple of the points in particular where I really admire him would be Christmas of 1776 … where it really looked like the British had defeated us, the war was over, there had recently been the Declaration of Independence — it was looking rather hallow at that point. Washington rallied his troops, who were hungry, poorly clothed, had not been paid in a long time and crossed the Delaware River, defeated the Hessians, then defeated the British. It was really a very dark time for courage and determination; exceptional leadership turned the situation around.
The other time I would mention is, once the war for independence was won, everyone in Europe assumed that Washington would become a king or a dictator. Washington, of course, had no such desire. He really truly believed in the principles in which he had been fighting, and so he resigned and went home to Mt. Vernon. When King George heard that, instead of seizing power, Washington had simply resigned and went home, the king was astounded, and he remarked, ‘Surely then, Washington is the greatest man of our age’. From King George himself.
Q: What do you like most about working the American Heritage Festival?
A: I like the focus on education. The purpose is to engage the public and the event is highly interactive, and people don’t just stand in once place and watch. I will be giving a speech, performing battles of the Revolutionary War and strolling around the event speaking with people. I have been doing the American Heritage Festival for 11 years now, and I’d have to say it has become my favorite annual event.
IF YOU GO
What: 11th annual American Heritage Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24
Where: Schnepf Farms, 24810 E. Rittenhouse Rd., Queen Creek
Cost: Admission is $15 at the door and cash only
Information: Call Schenpf Farms at (480) 987-3100 or We Make History at (480) 777-1776, or visit americanheritagefestival.com
• Nicole, a junior at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.