Teddy Roosevelt impersonator coming to Beaufort for battleship fundraiser

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comOctober 7, 2013 

The S.C. Olympia Committee, based in Port Royal, and the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation of California will cooperate on national fundraising to preserve the USS Olympia.

COURTESY OF INDEPENDENCE SEAPORT MUSEUM

A group working to bring a Spanish-American War-era battleship to Port Royal is holding a fundraiser Thursday in Beaufort, featuring a nationally recognized Theodore Roosevelt impersonator, the group's president said.

"An Evening with President Theodore Roosevelt" will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Beaufort High School auditorium on Sea Island Parkway and will feature Joe Wiegand, regarded as the premier reprisor of the 26th president of the United States, said S.C. Olympia Committee president Pete Richards.

Although Roosevelt has no direct connection to the USS Olympia -- the aging battleship the group is trying to bring to Port Royal -- he was instrumental in the Navy's preparation for the Spanish-American War and the Navy's growth afterward.

As assistant secretary of the Navy before the war, Roosevelt was effectively running the Navy, Richards said, and was key to its preparation for war in 1898. Roosevelt resigned from the Navy almost immediately after the start of the war to lead the Rough Riders volunteer cavalry in combat in Cuba, where he became a war hero.

A few months after the war's end, Roosevelt was elected governor of New York. Two years later, he was picked as William McKinley's running mate in the 1900 presidential election.

After McKinley's assassination and Roosevelt's rise to the presidency in 1901, Roosevelt began to rebuild the military and America's foreign policy, chiefly through the Navy, Richards said.

"He went on to reshape everything about the Navy," Richards said. "He took control of the development of the Panama Canal and began to replace the Navy's older ships."

Richards said he met Wiegand about two years ago when he was performing in Natchez, Miss., and has been keeping him updated on the Olympia Committee's progress in trying to bring the ship to Port Royal from a museum in Philadelphia. Wiegand volunteered his services for the fundraiser. His stop in Beaufort on Thursday will come after events in Greenville and Savannah, Richards said.

In 2008, Wiegand visited all 50 states and the District of Columbia as part of a tour commemorating the 150th anniversary of Roosevelt's birthday, ending with a stop at the White House to meet President George W. Bush.

"I'm very excited about this," Richards said. "He completely takes on the character and becomes Teddy Roosevelt. We're honored to have him."

Admission will be granted with a minimum donation of $20, or $15 for active-duty military. Money raised benefits the Olympia Committee, Richards said.

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