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Q&A: Meet the artist - David Best

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Indianapolis historical researcher David Best will portray George Washington in the program, ''George Washington: The Man and the Myth,'' Feb. 16 at the Johnson County Museum of History.
Indianapolis historical researcher David Best will portray George Washington in the program, ''George Washington: The Man and the Myth,'' Feb. 16 at the Johnson County Museum of History. SUBMITTED PHOTO

From the time most Americans are in elementary school, they learn about the legend of George Washington.

They know the story of the cherry tree, how he could not tell a lie and how he had wooden teeth. He was the savior of the American Revolution and is immortalized in monuments, in names of places and on the dollar bill.

But there’s so much more to the real man. That’s what drives David Best to help spread the truth behind the life of Washington, as well as other great men such as Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette.

“I want my audiences to be familiar with who they were, the impact they had on this country, and what kind of men they were,” he said.

Best will step back into the past to bring one of American history’s most beloved figures to life. In “George Washington: The Man and the Myth,” Best will explore the moments that shaped the country’s first president, including his teenage years and his time in the British army fighting in the French and Indian War.

The Indianapolis resident combines a storyteller’s feel for captivating the audience with a scholar’s grasp of history. The result is an entertaining, yet educational, presentation.

“George Washington: The Man and the Myth” will be at 2 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Johnson County Museum of History, 135 N. Main St., Franklin.

Throughout his career, Best has collected a wealth of knowledge and information on a variety of subjects. A graduate of Harvard University, he spent most of his career as a land surveyor. He worked in Egypt, Greece, the Soviet Union and China. For 18 years, he was also a professor of surveying at IUPUI.

A trained public speaker, he has given presentations on a variety of topics, including his surveying trips, his collection of 2,300 neckties and the works of author James A. Michener.

But his passion has been portraying the lives of Washington, Jefferson and Lafayette. He estimates he’s given more than 500 performances as the three men, linked together in the early formation of the U.S.

Best also took part in a distance-learning program, Open Access Scholarly Information, where he could present live programs directly to the classrooms throughout the U.S.

“George Washington: The Man and the Myth” is free and open to the public.

How did you get started doing this?

It began back in 1976. We had a patriotic pageant in our church, and I came as Thomas Jefferson. It was simply a pageant, not a presentation. But shortly after, I was asked by a member of the Propylaeum in Indianapolis. They were going to have a Fourth of July picnic and wanted me to dress as Thomas Jefferson and give a short presentation. In one of my weaker moments, I said yes, and that was the start of it. It’s grown like Topsy, really. I added George Washington and, in recent years, the Marquis de Lafayette.

What does it take to research and get into the lives of these men?

I now have a library of between 400 and 500 books, who in some way relate to these three historic American figures. I’m in some way reading something about these three. There is no end to amount of books published yearly about the lives of these three men. It’s incredible.

Why is re-enacting something that you enjoy doing?

I have given probably 500 presentations over the years. These men are, in a manner of speaking, ingrained in my personality now. I just can’t tell people how impressive the influence of these three men were on the creation of our country. Anything I can do to influence the general public, especially young people, I want to do.

How do you try to separate the reality from the myth of these people?

People will ask me, tell me about the cherry tree story. Those stories had no basis in fact. I endeavor as best I can to be a real-life story of each one of these American historical figures, based on the research I’ve done and the facts I’ve given. In portraying their lives, I try to emphasize that this was in fact how these men lived. People who attend my programs come away with the feeling that they really know if it’s Thomas Jefferson or George Washington or Lafayette, that they know the person more than they did when they came in.

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