FAIRFIELD — George Webber is a walking California history book.
The Sonoma resident, who does walking tours of Napa and Sonoma as Gen. Mariano Vallejo, makes his living portraying Agoston Haraszthy, the count who founded Buena Vista Winery in the Napa Valley.
That job takes him across the country dressed in circa 1840 finery, which provides for some interesting reaction as he walks in costume past some of Manhattan’s swankiest hotels. It’s not unusual for the hotel doormen to holler “looking good” at him from across the street.
Webber brought Vallejo to life Monday at the Vanden High School little theater for an audience of advanced Spanish students. Their instructor, Elaine Smith, had penned a California history lesson for them in Spanish. Inviting Webber, who donated his time, was an opportunity to make history real.
Smith told the students a famous Californian would be the guest. Senior Ben Dacy had thoughts of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger showing up at his school.
Webber didn’t disappoint as he stood on the stage, relating his story, including some history about Vacaville.
“This is pretty neat,” Dacy said.
He learned a lot of history about the Bear Flag revolt of 1846, in which Vallejo was prisoner, Dacy said.
Vallejo and his captors, on their way to meet Gen. John Charles Fremont – the man who instigated the Bear Flag Revolt– spent a night at Juan Vaca’s ranch.
“I had given him the land where Vacaville is today,” said Webber, portraying Vallejo.
Vaca founded the town of Vacaville. The town of Vallejo was named after the general.
A who’s who of Solano and Napa history was introduced to the students via Webber. Smith was dressed as Vallejo’s wife, Dona Francisca Benicia.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Webber asked the student rhetorically.
Senior Brea Llopis agreed.
“That’s a wonderful costume,” she said of Smith’s attire.
The state’s first capitol building, which still stands, is located in Benicia, which was named after the general’s wife, who bore him 13 children. That fact was not lost on the high school students as some expressed amazement at the total.
What seemed even more surprising to the students was the fact that the couple was never allowed to spend time alone until they were married and that General Vallejo had to wait 18 months to get the necessary paperwork from Mexico so he could wed.
“This is what I said about making history real,” Smith said as the performance ended.
Mission accomplished, said junior Ren Littlepage.
“This was a good idea,” he said. “It was a learning experience for me. It was about making it real, like Miss Smith says.”
Webber, who does two to three school appearances a year, posed for pictures with the students and Smith. He noted that schools don’t have the funds to pay him.
“It’s a karmic thing,” he said. “It’s about giving back.”
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.