Don Moon and President Theodore Roosevelt share a few fundamental things.
Both suffered from asthma when they were children. Both were decorated for their military service — Moon with the Bronze Star Medal, Roosevelt posthumously with the Medal of Honor. And there’s the walrus mustache.
“I already had the mustache, so it worked out well,” said Moon, 65, who has been speaking and performing as the 26th president for 15 years.
Roosevelt was friends with William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Moon still is.
“Me and Teddy Roosevelt went on 16 big game hunts together, from Mexico to Idaho,” said Cody historical impersonator Gene Johnson, speaking as his Wild West alter-ego, who maintained an adventure-fueled friendship with the “cowboy president,” meeting up with him at the Cliff House in Manitou Springs before domestic safaris into the frontier. “We sat around the campfire a lot. I think a lot of the things I discussed with Teddy about the buffalo’s demise influenced him to do the conservation work he did.”
Johnson holds a similar admiration for Moon.
“He’s amazing. He knows so much about Teddy Roosevelt and his attitudes, you start thinking that he really is Teddy Roosevelt,” said Johnson, 65, an actor with Red Herring Productions, the corporate entertainment company Moon co-owns. “I’ve known him for about 10 years and he is the kindest, most generous, most religious man I’ve ever known.”
Moon, who grew up in Pueblo, is a decorated Army veteran who served in Vietnam before starting a career as an electrical field engineer for Colorado Springs Utilities, from which he retired in 2000. He’s married, a father of two grown daughters, and a grandfather of three.
“The Teddy character definitely seems to make him a happier person,” said Christine Hopper, Moon’s daughter, who lives in Colorado Springs. “He’s fun-loving and caring, and I can tell it’s definitely a passion for him.”
Moon began his acting career nearly 30 years ago, working part-time evening gigs for Red Herring, donning elaborate Victorian costumes for murder-mystery dinners, corporate events and openings. It was at one of those events that someone pointed out how, especially in period garb, Moon looked an awful lot like the Bull Moose.
A president — or, rather, a guy who really likes to play a president — was born.
“I fell in love with Theodore Roosevelt. I am he and he is me and we travel well together,” said Moon, who devotes an extra bedroom in his house to his “TR” studies — computer, files, books and costumes. He’s even writing a book about his time-distanced relationship with the iconic president, who ascended to office from the vice presidency after William McKinley was assassinated in 1901. “I find something new about him every day.”
Moon ends his voice mail message by encouraging callers to have a “bully” day, a term meaning “great” favored by the late president.
The posts and updates on Moon’s Facebook page are almost all about Teddy. For March 26, that update was: “Teddy Roosevelt. Better than you for a hundred years,” above a list of Roosevelt’s possibly lesser-known accomplishments and habits, such as killing a cougar with a knife and reading multiple books each day.
“He was a wordsmith and he went on and on, giving lavish descriptions,” Moon said. “It’s hard to replicate him, but it’s easy to get his spirit. I’m not an occultist, but I believe every now and then, Theodore Roosevelt channels through me.”
Moon is not alone in his fervor for Roosevelt, who shows up on pretty much every best presidents list, whether from popular or scholarly polls, as well as Mount Rushmore.
The highlight reel of his life is far too voluminous to address here in its entirety, but it included naming the White House, organizing the Rough Riders, leading the charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War and being the youngest U.S. president to take office. In 1912, after being wounded in the chest by a would-be assassin’s bullet, he covered the blood stain with a clean handkerchief and went on to deliver an 80-minute campaign speech.
The “Teddy” bear was inspired by a popular tale circulated in the press about Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot a bear his comrades had tied to a tree during a big game hunt. He found it unsportsmanlike.
To this list, let us suggest one more — Theodore Roosevelt, self-help guru.
Since taking up TR’s top hat, Moon has lost 66 pounds and given up alcohol.
“He’s helped clean up my life,” Moon said. “I hope Theodore keeps me on a straight line. I would like to make people realize how much better they could be if they were more like him.”
When the time comes for Moon to turn off Teddy and return to real life, that’s when things can get a little tricky.
“I visualize a closet in back of my head and I stuff Teddy into it,” Moon said. “But if the door cracks just a bit, he comes spilling back out.”
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