Zebra Misc

Meet George Washington, aka Brian Hilton, The Face Behind the Façade

The man who portrays Alexandria’s George Washington comes out of period dress to talk about playing the nation’s first president.

Mount Vernon, Home of George Washington (2018). (Photo courtesy Mary Wiseman)

Alexandria, VA – On a sparkling azure blue-skied late morning this past February, I stood with my Zebra colleagues, waiting to start walking in the Alexandria George Washington Birthday parade.

I looked up and there stood George Washington. He was a tall man in a crisp, stiff uniform, coiffed wig, and stoic gaze, standing at attention, surveying the assembled crowd. I remarked to a colleague, “Oh my, what a striking resemblance!” She responded, “When he’s in character, he is all George Washington. He plays the part exquisitely.”

The Founding Father shook hands, a formal half smile crossing his lips, regal, stately, yet quiet and reserved. George Washington, or the man who plays him, was about to take his seat in the first float, the Living Legends float, as the original Alexandria Living Legend, his ornate shirt ruffling in the mid-winter wind.

Living Legends of Alexandria, grand marshals at the George Washington Birthday parade February 19, 2024. George Washington is named the original Living Legend. (Photo: John David Coppola/ Zebra Press)

Who is the man behind the costume who portrays the character so meticulously? He is Brian Hilton, Alexandria’s official portrayer of the first U.S. president. When not providing a historical interpretation of George Washington, he is a high school teacher near Richmond, Virginia. Hilton portrayed General Washington at Mount Rushmore last Fourth of July and will do so again this year. He has also portrayed President John F. Kennedy around the country, including at The Lyceum in Old Town.

In the ensuing months, I met with Brian Hilton. The following interview came from our conversations.

Judith Fogel: The first thing that struck me when I first saw you was how much you resembled our first U.S. president.

Brian Hilton: When it comes to the feedback, Judith, I’m so pleased to hear that. When it comes to the hair and makeup, the uniform, it all comes together. Or seems to on performance days. Whether a parade or I’m going before an academic audience, I endeavor to get the look down and present a younger Washington that most people are unfamiliar with because we’re so accustomed to the image on the one-dollar bill.

When it comes to the peruke (wig), even though George Washington never wore one, I do. I want to be as historically accurate as possible with respect to the aesthetic, including the hair. Many people don’t realize I’ve got to shave my head before these events so the peruke fits closely and looks as natural as possible.

J.F.: Do you consider yourself a historian?

B.H.: “Yes, one can say that, absolutely. And I specialize in the history of the early republic.”

J.F.: Your passion is the history of the early republic. You are drawn to it. How did it all start?

B.H.: Going back to elementary school, my maternal grandmother had a large hand in raising me. She expected us to speak well. She loved history, literature, the English language, and she was determined that my sister and I, during the summer, would not experience learning loss.

Because of my grandmother, I love language. I love the 18th-century language, the use of words and phrases, and how they are employed.

J.F.: You say it’s not historical reenactment but historical interpretation. How do you differentiate the two?

B.H.: Historical interpretation is usually defined as being more immersive and in-depth when it comes to a particular character or historical person. In my humble opinion, the research required, the number of hours of preparation, the background, are extensive. It’s taking those deep dives into as many aspects and parts of that person’s life as possible, getting it down to form.

Portraying General George Washington at Mount Rushmore on July 4, 2023. He will do it again this year. (Photo: National Park Service)

Brian Hilton was born and raised in Northern Virginia, living in Old Town Alexandria for a time. Hilton graduated from West Springfield High School and received his bachelor’s degree from George Mason University. He is married with two young sons.

Did you miss Brian Hilton at the Washington Birthday parade? He is returning to Alexandria on July 18 at 6:00 pm for the Signing of the  Fairfax Resolves commemoration at Market Square.

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