You might know Brian Hilton better as George Washington, but soon, you’ll also know him as Albert Einstein.
For the last six years, Hilton has been Alexandria’s official portrayer of the first U.S. president at the George Washington Birthday Parade in Old Town and at dozens of annual events around the country. He was most recently invited by the National Park Service to appear as Washington on July 4 at Mount Rushmore.
“I want to speak in front of as many people as possible in order to educate about General Washington,” Hilton told us. “I want them to see just how extraordinary a person he was and why he is considered to be the indispensable man. If anyone was ever truly indispensable, that was George Washington.”
Like Washington, the 55-year-old Hilton stands six-feet-one in his Continental Army uniform, and in a low, hushed voice will rattle off any number of famous quotes. And with the 250th anniversary the signing of the Declaration of Independence a year away, Hilton’s schedule is starting to pile up.
Hilton teaches high school history in Henrico County. Raised in Fairfax County, he got his start in interpretive history by portraying President John F. Kennedy while attending West Springfield High School. He’s portrayed Kennedy more than 70 times since then, and has also done Patrick Henry and Woodrow Wilson.
Twenty years ago, Hilton started his public speaking business Hail To The Chief, which is managed by his wife, Mary Beth. The couple have two young sons.
Hilton, a history graduate of George Mason University, has studied Washington for decades and started portraying him in 2007. He was a guide and researcher at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate for 10 years and even appears as the founding father for the Washington family’s annual reunions, before members of Congress as well as groups like the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution.
Hilton’s newest obsession is Albert Einstein, and for the past eight years he’s been studying science, math and German in order to take the scientist on the road, so to speak.
ALXnow: What’s your closet look like?
Hilton: My closet is stocked with quite the 18th-century wardrobe. At the George Washington Birthday Parade, you might see me in my Continental Army uniform, but I’ve also got civilian dress from formal all the way down to farm clothes. I’d say about half of what I’ve got is 18th-century garb.
ALXnow: How did you get started portraying famous figures?
Hilton: For the longest time I portrayed President Kennedy — as early as when I was in high school for my AP U.S. History class. I got the bug right away.
ALXnow: What’s your favorite Washington quote?
Hilton: I really like most of what General Washington conveyed in his Circular Letter to the Governors of the Thirteen States dated June 8, 1783; his Farewell Address of September 19, 1796; and the following from a draft of his first inaugural address that was never used:
(T)he best institutions may be abused by human depravity; and that they may even, in some instances be made subservient to the vilest of purposes. Should, hereafter, those who are entrusted with the management of this government, incited by the lust of power and prompted by the supineness or venality of their constituents, overleap the known barriers of this Constitution and violate the unalienable rights of humanity: it will only serve to show, that no compact among men (however provident in its construction and sacred in its ratification) can be pronounced everlasting and inviolable. And if I may so express myself, that no wall of words, that no mound of parchment can be so formed as to stand against the sweeping torrent of boundless ambition on the one side, aided by the sapping current of corrupted morals on the other.
ALXnow: Do you sometimes feel like you’re channeling Washington and the other historical figures you portray?
Hilton: Yeah, that happens after about five minutes. It’s an exhilarating experience that takes me a little bit to come down from after a performance. I’ve loved the character-building experience of taking what’s generally agreed upon to be best of Washington and taking these deep dives into the lives of him and other individuals has been extremely rewarding.
ALXnow: Do people ask you to participate in partisan events?
Hilton: Definitely. I will not accept doing, in the persona of General Washington, the extremes when it comes to politics or religion. I don’t say anything that Washington didn’t say. I have studied him since before I was at George Mason University.
ALXnow: When can we next see you as George Washington?
Hilton: The exact date hasn’t been set, but I’ll be appearing at the Carlyle House in September.
ALXnow: Then the George Washington Birthday Parade in February…
Hilton: That’s right. You know, for people like me who portray Washington, President’s Day is what Christmas is like for Santa Claus.
ALXnow: Now that you’re prepping for Einstein, how are your math and science skills?
Hilton: I’ve always been fascinated by Albert Einstein. Mainly it’s just just getting ready when it comes to the whole mathematics side. I’m also studying a little Hebrew. I’ll be speaking English but with a German accent. I hope to portray him for colleges and universities, for think tanks and research facilities. So, it’s been a lot of math, the fluidity of spacetime, and getting all that down. I’ve got the general theory of relativity and the special theory and all of his papers from 1905 in particular. I’ve got all the Einstein equations down and I’ve got the quantum mechanics down, as well.
ALXnow: Will you wear your shoes without socks?
Hilton: That’s right. I will not be wearing socks. I go into more of a nerdy mode and, like Einstein, start thinking in pictures. There’s an absent-mindedness when it comes to his general appearance, and when you get the mustache on and the superannuated sheepdog look with the hair. It’s really quite something to see when put together.
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Peace in Gaza: Prayer Liturgy and Community Discussion for Peace in Arlington VA, Sunday, Feb. 11, 10:15 AM
Prayer, liturgy, and community discussion for peace in Gaza, an immediate cease fire and resumption of humanitarian aid will be hosted by Nova Catholic Community. The focus will be Pope Francis’ call for an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages, resumption of humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza, and peace talks for a lasting and just peace for all people in the region.
Discussion will follow at Noon on US military role in the conflict and appropriate steps the US should take to foster peace and rebuilding. Light lunch served.
Again this year, The Critical Mass, LLC, the Made in ALX store and local Ukrainian-American artists are throwing a Pysanky Party — and partnering on a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization Razom for Ukraine.
The free event, from 5 –