Mexico resident brings history to life

Mexico resident brings history to life
Pike County politician Champ Clark is Alan’s most recent portrayal. He’s made several public appearances as Champ and has earned the endorsement of the Champ Clark museum, Honeyshuck. [submitted photo]
Nathan Lilley
General Manager

In the silent era of films, Lon Chaney earned fame for his seemingly countless guises on the silver screen. A Chaney reference is something that Mexico historian Alan Hiles can appreciate, as he worked as a projectionist for the State Theater in Bowling Green in his youth. And while he may not be the man of 1,000 faces, Alan is certainly earning a name for his many historic portrayals, a hobby that was born at a popular Audrain County event.

“I got started in living history by displaying my pocket watch collection at the Walk Back in Time,” Alan says. “The second year, I decided to make up a baseball uniform as they wanted everyone to be in ‘period’ costume.”

As he recalls, that uniform was “pretty crude and all wrong”, but it nonetheless garnered attention from festival attendees.

“I knew I was onto something when a German soldier came across the grounds and wanted to take my picture,” he says.

That initial toe dip into living history quickly grew and since then he’s portrayed baseball players from a number of teams from the 1887 St. Louis Browns to the 1900 St. Louis Cardinals, to the 1915 St. Louis Terriers (of the Federal League), and more “recent” teams, like the 1956 Cardinals. He’s also done out-of-state teams: the White Sox, Athletics, the Senators and more.

Plenty more, like the late, great Babe Ruth, with Ruth’s period-appropriate uniforms from 1934, 1935 and 1938.

Baseball’s been an obvious theme for Alan, but his latest portrayal draws from his hometown of Bowling Green.

“Champ Clark is my latest portrayal,” Alan says. “I am the official Champ Clark for Honeyshuck - The Champ Clark museum in Bowling Green.”

Clark served as Speaker of the House from 1911 to 1919 and was the favorite heading into the 1912 presidential election before being overtaken by Woodrow Wilson at the Democratic Convention. Wilson would, of course, go on to win the presidency as he faced fragmented opposition with Teddy Roosevelt and his Bull Moose party splitting votes with beleaguered Republican candidate William Howard Taft. Clark continues to be remembered in Bowling Green for the role he played on the world stage; he is buried in the town cemetery and his statue graces the Pike County Courthouse square. To help keep his legacy alive, the museum even produced an educational video for schools - the video features Alan as the politician.

“I am honored by Champ Clark’s family to be their official Champ Clark,” he said.

Having called Mexico home since 1975, Alan has been a regular at the Walk Back in Time; he’s also made appearances at World War I reenactments, groundbreakings, dedications and reunions. When he’s portraying Alan Hiles, he’s worked as a jeweler at Miller’s, Brentlinger’s, and Pilchers. For the last 25 years, he’s worked for Melody’s Jewelry, where he now works part-time, but has recently taken off until COVID-19 concerns subside.

Alan has been taking time off from public appearances as festivals have dried up and COVID makes the rounds.His last public appearance was in spring 2020, when he was guest speaker at the Bowling Green Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) meeting, appearing as Champ Clark. Like almost everyone, he looks forward to making the rounds again when things return to normal.

“I hope to get back into action once this COVID stuff is winding down,” he says. “Fingers crossed, I’ll be at several events such as the Farber 150-year celebration and Walk Back in Time.”

Coupling premade blank clothing with “a lot of research”, Alan adds appropriate emblems to baseball uniforms. His Clark suit is a reproduction of original items. He is currently working on uniforms for the 1919 St. Louis Cardinals.

Of all the folks he’s been, his favorite comes as little surprise.

“My favorite is Babe Ruth for obvious reasons,” Alan says. “I can get away with most anything and be authentic.”

Living history has proven to be a rewarding hobby for Alan, who is a self-professed lover of history, trivia and reading. He’s always happy to get a thumbs-up or to oblige photo requests.

“I am honored that people seem to enjoy my little portrayals,” Alan says. “I probably get a bigger kick out of it than anyone. I have met so many wonderful people doing these things.”

On the horizon?

“I would like to portray ‘Uncle Robbie’ Wilbert Robinson,” Alan says. “He was a player for the legendary 1800s Baltimore Orioles and later was manager of the Brooklyn team. They nicknamed them the Robins while we was coach.”

Alan Hiles can be found on Facebook and he is happy to do public appearances as available. He resides in Mexico with his wife, Waylene. He is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, Columbia and is currently chaplain and soon to be vice president. Alan is also a member of the Honeyshuck board, Bowling Green; and is a member of the St. Louis Browns Fan Club, St. Louis.


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