When most people think of George Washington, they usually picture the president who appears on the dollar bill.
They seldom picture a young man in his prime, a military leader. But it will be this George Washington – a general and commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War – who will walk the grounds of North Augusta’s Living History Park, 299 West Spring Grove Ave., this weekend.
John Koopman will portray Washington at Colonial Times: A Day to Remember this weekend, Oct. 15-16. It will be his first visit to this event.
Koopman fell into the role of Washington in 2006. Before that he portrayed a private in the cavalry, a role he still plays when he’s not George Washington.
After he was asked to portray the general, everything seemed to fall into place. An aunt left him a small inheritance that was enough to buy the expensive equipment he’d need.
His friend Henry Cooke, who was making clothing for three life-size Washington figures for a museum, agreed to make his uniform. He quickly discovered that Koopman and Washington had the exact same measurements.
“I’m his identical size. Of course, when I heard that it just made my day,” he said. “So my uniform is about as close as you can get to what Washington actually had.”
He began his study of Washington by reading George Washington by Joseph Ellis, and continues to study him. Each author focuses on a different aspect of Washington’s personality, and each gives Koopman a little more perspective on the historical figure.
Koopman, who resides in Colchester, Conn., said he worried that in studying Washington he would find things that would change his high opinion of the man. He didn’t.
“The more I study him, the more he amazes me,” he said.
While he enjoys sharing his knowledge of Washington with his audience, he also enjoys dispelling the myths.
“If I had a dollar for every question about his wooden teeth, I would be a wealthy man. Of course, he never had wooden teeth. He had dentures made of ivory,” he said.
Koopman enjoys answering questions about Washington, but sometimes it can be tricky. Many times people will ask about events that happened after the time period he portrays.
“One of the problems I find as being the first-person interpreter is that they call me president,” he said. “I’m portraying first person. I can’t know the future, and the presidency is the future. I don’t go beyond 1783.”
For instance, Washington visited every state during his presidency, Koopman said. But he won’t discuss Washington’s visit to, say, Augusta, because nowhere in his research can he find Washington visiting farther south than Virginia before he took office.
People assume he’ll answer questions about any time period, but in order to remain in character he refers them back to 1783. (Washington did not become president until 1789, and visited Augusta in 1791.)
Koopman, who said without living history he has a tendency to stay close to home, has found many rewards in his hobby.
“I get to meet all kinds of interesting people, go to interesting places and learn new things while portraying one of the greatest men of all time,” he said.
Lynn Thompson, chairwoman of the park and president of the Olde Town Preservation Association, said she is looking forward to seeing Koopman’s interpretation.
“He’s really, really good and came highly recommended,” she said.
More than 100 interpreters are expected to attend, including Charles Molenda as Benjamin Franklin, Tim Nealeigh as M. LeFarceur de Villeverte (better known as the Arrogant Frenchman), and Faire Wynds Historical Entertainment.
There will also be a surprise interpreter, but guests will have to attend the event to find out who it is, Thompson said.
School groups attend A Day to Remember on Friday. There are also Scavenger Hunts for all grade levels available on the Web site. Children can print the hunt and bring it along for the weekend events.