LEWISTON — George Washington, Florence Nightingale, Cleopatra, Maine's Samantha Smith and other historical figures were presented at a living wax museum at Montello Elementary School on Thursday.
Nine-year-olds in Megan Skilling's fourth-grade class posed as characters in a wax museum. When a visitor pushed a paper button taped to the wall, costumed students stood and spoke.
“I'm Georgia O'Keeffe. I was born on a family farm in Sun Prairie, Wis., 1887, Nov. 15,” Quinn Pruiksma said. “My parents are Francis O'Keeffe and Ida O’Keeffe. They were dairy farmers.”
She was dressed in a painter's smock and had a paint brush and palette.
She picked O'Keeffe “because I really like her pictures,” Quinn said. A landscape painter herself, Quinn said O'Keeffe produced many paintings. “I really like her pink and yellow hollyhocks.”
Matthew Wallingford was George Washington. He wore a white wig, black hat, wool jacket and knickers.
“I'm hot,” he said. “They wore weird stuff in the 1700s.”
He learned Washington had two sisters, four brothers, was the first president, has his face carved on Mount Rushmore and led the Revolutionary War.
Acting in character, Wallingford said that in the 1750s, Washington was dispatched to the Ohio Valley to warn the French against trespassing on Native American land and that he died Dec. 14, 1799, at Mount Vernon, his estate in Virginia.
Matthew's mother, Angie Wallingford, was among the crowd of proud parents listening, smiling and taking pictures. She approved of the wax museum project.
“It's a good learning tool,” she said. “It's great for the kids to learn about history, what it was like back then.”
“They're never going to forget this,” said Marjorie Medd, who was visiting with businessman Peter Geiger.
Skilling explained how the project came about. Students were learning about biographies and were assigned to research someone from history.
“I heard about a wax museum project when I took a grad school course a couple of years ago,” she said. “I was teaching first and second grades at the time, that's not something they could handle.”
She became a fourth-grade teacher and started planning the project this past summer.
In addition to history and writing, students learned about public speaking. Skilling coached them to think about what to say when someone asked why they picked their person, and that when people are nervous they tend to talk faster. “We talked about how to slow yourself down,” she said.
Wearing a white Egyptian gown, a snake headpiece and jewels, Maisie Whelchel played Cleopatra. She said she knew Cleopatra lived a long time ago, but was surprised to learn it was 69 to 30 B.C.
Farhan Diriye, dressed in a white astronaut suit, played Neil Armstrong. When his button was pushed, Diriye stood and said Armstrong got his pilot's license at 17 and went on to become the first person to walk on the moon.
“I said this, 'One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,'” Farhan said. Armstrong helped investigate the Challenger explosion, was named the most popular space hero in 2010 and died last year at age 82, he said.
Other wax museum characters included Jane Goodall played by Abby Svor, Pocahontas played by Alexia Spencer, Betsy Ross played by Habiba Samow and Dick Van Dyke played by Braden York.
“He's my favorite person; he's funny,” Braden said. “I like 'The Dick Van Dyke Show' and 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.'”
Van Dyke got involved in variety shows while in the Air Force, starred in 'Bye Bye Birdie' in 1960 and began his Emmy Award-winning show in 1961, Braden said.
Looking dapper in a white shirt, black tie and jacket, Braden recited, “I'm still alive and live in Malibou, Calif.”