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Checking Out Heroes

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

This Sunday, Glendale Public Library will be transformed into a theme park. Most such parks are populated by actors portraying mice, dogs, ducks and pigs. But at the library’s version, kids can talk to and be photographed with the likes of Ben Franklin, Amelia Earhart, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mark Twain and Harriet Tubman.

These and 20 other historical figures will be portrayed this year at the library’s annual American Heroes Program.

In addition, a special area of the library will be transformed by a motion picture prop company into an interior likeness of the Titanic. There, kids will get to meet the “unsinkable” Mollie Brown, made famous once again by the recent movie.

Outside the library will be a historical re-creation of a U.S. military encampment, where kids can learn about the famous African American cavalry unit the Buffalo Soldiers, an important part of America’s westward expansion.

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Live heroes--not actors--will be on hand in the persons of two Glendale firefighters, William Jensen and Scott French, who distinguished themselves--and nearly lost their lives--fighting the Calabasas-Malibu fire in 1996. They will be there with a firetruck to talk about their job.

Friends of the Glendale Public Library, a private organization that supports the library, is putting on the event.

John Grande, the group’s president, characterizes the program as “a cornucopia of historical characters” that can help kids envision what it was like to live during America’s past.

For instance, by talking to Grande as he portrays Civil War Gen. J.L. Chamberlain who fought at Gettysburg, kids will learn that more Americans were killed during the three days of that battle than in all the fighting in Vietnam.

It’s sobering to realize that Gen. Chamberlain’s heroism--brought to modern public attention because he was the main character in the recent movie re-creation of the battle--involved defending the American Union against other Americans who wanted to secede from it.

Grande’s insight into the Chamberlain character is deepened by the fact that both men were also educators who retired after serving as college presidents--Grande at Glendale Community College and Chamberlain at Bowdoin College in Maine.

Most of the other historical characters will be played by professional actors, according to Phil Cates, a local film and TV producer-director who organized the casting of the program. The costumes are being provided by Jim Livie of Eastern Costumes, a Valley-based company.

To maximize the historical accuracy of the event, the library has supplied the reenactors with appropriate reference books on the people they will play. And Mindy Liberman, who is in charge of the children’s section of the library, has prepared a list of these books that will be available to interested kids.

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The props and scenery that will help re-create the interior of Titanic are being supplied by a North Hollywood firm, History for Hire. Kids who have seen the movie may experience a certain degree of deja vu if they go to the library Sunday. According to History for Hire’s Pam Elyea, many props being lent for the event were used in the movie.

Elyea is also providing props that help bring other American history events to life, including surveying equipment that conjures up the period of exploration, a balloon gondola from early flight experiments, a space suit and a replica of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s wheelchair.

BE THERE

American Heroes Program, Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Glendale Public Library, 222 E. Harvard St. $1 for students, $3 for adults. (818) 502-9110, (818) 546-2538 or (818) 548-2035.

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