Bringing history's figures to life

A man in a white, colonial wig stood in the hallway at Bret Harte Elementary School with his hands clasped behind him.

He stood in white stockings and a frilly collar as a small, blond girl came toward him asked who he was.

"I'm George Washington," he said, his words echoing off the walls. "I was the first president of the United States. I was born in 1732."

In another classroom, Thomas Jefferson talked to children about his life and the work he did on the Declaration of Independence.

Down the hall, Frederick Douglass schooled students on his role as an abolitionist and his friendship with Abraham Lincoln — who was in Bridgett Murphy's second-grade class giving a talk on the Civil War.

A Pony Express worker was also among the bunch. Except that he wasn't, not really. These were actors who pretended to be historical figures back from the past for the school's Time Travelers day.

"I didn't like slavery," , J.P. Wammack, the man playing Lincoln, said. "I didn't want to be a master and I didn't want to be a slave."

The small group of 6- and 7-year-old students sat in open-mouthed awe of the man wearing a black suit and tall, top hat as he regaled them with tales of Lincoln's past and crucial parts of American history.

The classes had been learning about famous Americans for the past month, Murphy said, and the visit from the historical figures was a way to wrap up the session and learn a little something extra.

"My kids have just loved history," she said.

She turned to the class and got their attention, prompting them to reflect on why looking back at history is important.

"So we don't have to make the same mistakes," they answered in unison, nodding their heads.

The students had been writing stories about Lincoln, learning about his life, time as president and his family before he came into the classroom on Friday afternoon.

Though they seemed pretty convinced while Wammack gave the Gettysburg Address in front of them, many of the children were not under the illusion that Wammack was the real Lincoln.

"He's dead right now," Kaitlyn Nunn, 7, said. "He is in the grave."

Kaitlyn said she still enjoyed Wammack's interpretation of Lincoln, as did the rest of the class.

This was the second year Bret Harte elementary has invited the time travelers into its classrooms as part of a PTA- sponsored program, Murphy said.

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