Ben Fiore-Walker wedded his wife in a tri-corner hat and an 18th-century getup, if thats any indication of his enthusiasm for colonial history, a must-have for Alexandrias new and official town crier.
Fiore-Walker triumphed over 12 other history buffs September 7 at a cry-off, in which hopeful town criers clanged a bell and bellowed the news the positions modus operandi to the public.
I had a loud voice so I think that didnt hurt. Im used to kind of projecting across the room, said Fiore-Walker, who teaches at Georgetown University. I think I was able to demonstrate and show the passion I have for Alexandrias history, and that I would have a lot of fun talking with people and interacting with the people of the Alexandria, which I think are one of the strengths of the city.
Dating back to ancient Greek culture, town criers once served as living, breathing and yelling newspapers. In Alexandria, they represented a crucial information source before widespread literacy, drawing residents to Market Square with a booming call and clanging bell to relay communications from the mayor and elected officials.
It was a far cry from Twitter.
More or less, they were the newscasters of the colonial period, said Lance Mallamo, director of the Office of Historic Alexandria.
Today the post is purely ceremonial. Fiore-Walker will attend official events like parades and city council meetings as an anachronistic novelty.
Born outside Philadelphia, Fiore-Walker was drawn by the paradoxical history of the area a place that comprised one of the biggest slave trading posts in the East but also sheltered a hefty population of freed slaves. He became fascinated with that juxtaposition and pretty much every other bit of the citys past.
Alexandrias history also resonates personally with the newly anointed town crier. The Quaker owners of the apothecary often bought slaves just to free them, a captivating factoid for Fiore-Walker, a black man and Quaker. And one of the citys earliest criers was black, which helped seal the deal, he said.
Once I learned that one of the first ones was African-American, all those pieces kind of came together and it was just like, Yes.
But being a town crier is more than a knowledge and passion of local history; you have to not only relish conversation, but excel at it, said American Guild of Town Criers President John Krasten.
You just cant be a funny guy in a funny suit standing on the corner of the street, Krasten said. You got to be easy-going, nice to talk to, and youve got to be a talker, you know what Im saying? Youve got to have good volume.
If thats the case, Fiore-Walker will be just fine. He amplified his Oz-like voice effectively during the competition.
Gentle mistresses and most distinguished gentlemen as town crier I would sail the river and walk over the land to extol the virtues of our fair Alexandria, he boomed.
Fiore-Walkers first official act as town crier will take place at the September 27 city council meeting at City Hall.