Thursday, July 5, 2007

Bill Meikle

I am very saddened to learn just now that Bill Meikle, a well-known Benjamin Franklin impersonator/interpreter in Massachusetts, passed away at the end of last year.

I was lucky enough to have Bill Meikle visit my rural, central Massachusetts elementary school in the 1980's-- I think I was in fifth grade, but I may be off by a year. I assume my class did a unit of study about Benjamin Franklin before Mr. Meikle's visit, so that we would have something to ask him about besides his funny shoes. He probably also recounted an autobiographical tale before the Q & A session.

He sat amongst all us kids in full 18th century dress and answered questions in character. It's unfortunate that my strongest memory of the event is of some wise-ass classmate asking an irrelevant/irreverent question in an attempt to get him to break character. Mr. Meikle handled it deftly (I'm sure he was used to it,) remaining firmly in character and dismissing the question in exactly the wry/clever/slightly testy tone you imagine Benjamin Franklin would use if you were wasting his time.

I remember we were all old enough to think that it was a little bit cheesy - but Bill Meikle was very good at what he did and he really did bring Benjamin Franklin to life, making him a lot more real to me than a name in history books. To this day, none of the other founding fathers resonate as strongly with me as Franklin... I have no trouble imagining what it might be like to raise a pint or two with Ben Franklin, but most of the others are so many names in so many books.

I never forgot a name like "Bill Meikle", but I didn't know how that 'frankling' was the man's life work until I heard him interviewed on NPR early last year. How it took me back! There are a handful of people I encountered as an elementary school kid whose hands I would like to shake as a grown man, and tell them they that got through to at least one kid. Bill Meikle is one of them. I am sorry to learn that I won't have that chance in this life.

1 comment:

Anthony Ruggiero said...

I am sitting here reading the biography of Ben Franklin. I can't help but remember Bill Meikle when we both worked at McLEan Hospital as mental health workers in the early eighties. Bill was not only a talented actor of Ben Franklin but was a poet / write extraordinaire.I am sure he is wooing and amusing them in the heavens of his talents.

Tony Ruggiero