Lloyd Wheeler Brings the Past to Life by Imitating a Founding Father
He was one of our nation’s Founding Fathers and discovered that electricity existed in storm clouds in the form of lightning. He invented bifocals, the lightning rod and swim fins. He founded America’s first public hospital and suggested the concept of Daylight Saving Time. Through all of this, he remained humble and was greatly loved.
His name was Benjamin Franklin, and all of these discoveries and numerous contributions have shaped him to be known as “the First American.”
Though the 1700s were a long time ago, one Tallahassee man doesn’t want anyone to forget Franklin and the legacy he left behind.
Like his counterpart, Lloyd Wheeler is a founder himself. Ten years ago, when someone was seeking a Thomas Jefferson impersonator, they asked the retired aviator, but he didn’t look or sound the part. He did, however, vocally and physically, almost perfectly resemble Franklin. His impersonation went so well that from there, an alter ego was born. Wheeler took his talents and created History Alive Productions.
More than just an impersonator, Wheeler considers his work an important educational tool.
“When I looked at my nephew’s textbook, there were eight pages on Marilyn Monroe and Hollywood,” Wheeler said. “There was only one page on the formation of our country and Ben Franklin, one of the most important people in American history. It didn’t even mention why or how we became a country. Our children know very little about our country, and how are they supposed to guide us if they don’t know anything about it?”
While Franklin is his most popular act — and his personal favorite — Wheeler inhabits two other characters as well. One is a fictional colonial blacksmith Lloyd developed and named George Ennis. Through Ennis, he tells true, lesser-known stories about the common people of the American Revolution. The other character he performs is Israel Hands, second-in-command under Edward Teach — more popularly known as the pirate Blackbeard. As Hands, Wheeler tells the true tale of the demise of the notorious pirate.
Adorned in a tricorne and authentic costume, Wheeler travels from schools to businesses and political groups to, quite literally, keep history alive. His career is mobile, and so is he. He can go anywhere, and with his talents, he can figuratively travel in time, too.
Dressed as Franklin, he appears to have stepped straight from a picture of the Colonial era, but the similarities and dedication don’t stop there. Wheeler, a true master of Franklin and the skill of interpretation, speaks as though he is from the 18th century, using long-forgotten words and tones, and he talks about Franklin’s family as though it is his own. When Wheeler is in character, it feels as though the real Ben Franklin is standing in front of you.
While history may be fading for some people, Wheeler has made it his mission to keep the past fresh and relevant. He is constantly learning, absorbing, practicing and gathering knowledge about Franklin and other facets of history. And although he says the research will never end, the fun and excitement that he’s lucky enough to call his career never will, either.