When the seventh-graders filed into the Riverview Charter School classroom Monday morning, a few wondered aloud: Did their teacher have a time machine?
At the front of the room stood a living, breathing Ben Franklin -- complete with ruffled shirt, wire spectacles and buckled shoes -- who told the students about a childhood spent making candles with his family and learning the printing trade as his half-brother's indentured servant.
Of course, this wasn't the real Ben Franklin, but impersonator Steven Nousen sure looked like the real thing as he quizzed students on their knowledge of the Declaration of Independence and early days of the United States.
Nousen was there for Constitution Day. Monday marked 225 years since the Constitution was signed by members of the Constitutional Convention, which passed it to the states for ratification. Creative-arts teacher Lisa Clancy invited Nousen to share his act in celebration of the day with third- through eighth-grade students and relate it to an upcoming school play and other events to highlight the country's founding.
Although the seventh-graders knew a lot of what Nousen asked -- they were able to recall that the colonies declared independence from England and King George III, and that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution were to become known as the Bill of Rights -- most had no idea the Constitution was signed on Sept. 17.
Seventh-graders Chris Hoogenboom and Jefferson Gibson both said they thought the day should be more of a holiday -- and not just so school would be closed.
"It symbolizes when America became more unified," Hoogenboom said.
Both boys also said they learned a lot more about Franklin from Nousen's presentation. Neither knew that Franklin was followed around during the Constitutional Convention to keep him from spilling secrets, or that he was in his 80s and had to be carried about in a special chair.
That's enough to count as a success for Nousen, who has been impersonating Franklin for about four years.
"The more I get into it, the more I'm fascinated by him because he's one of the most extraordinary people to ever walk the earth," Nousen said.
- Ben Speaks, Steve Nousen's website
- Constitution Day information from the National Constitution Center
- Being Ben: Historian takes on role of Benjamin Franklin; June 7, 2010