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A tall, long-haired blond biker with a denim vest emblazoned with “American Ride,” “Freedom” and images of American flags took to the streets of Williamsburg on Thursday.
Stan Ellsworth’s ride on a Harley Davidson motorcycle allowed a camera crew to capture footage of him tooling through major Williamsburg streets. The footage will be part of two forthcoming episodes of American Ride, a BYU-TV program in which Ellsworth uses the skills he developed as a high school teacher to talk about American history.
“This place is cool,” Ellsworth said of Williamsburg in an interview with WYDaily near the Christopher Wren building at the College of William & Mary. The towering biker is no stranger to the Historic Triangle, having visited in his childhood and again when filming past episodes of American Ride, now in its eighth season.
This visit is for the upcoming ninth season, whose “Patriots and Presidents” theme explores the men of the Oval Office through the years. That makes Williamsburg an attractive destination for the early part of the season, as many presidents from the earliest days of the Republic attended school at the College of William & Mary.
The episodes shot in Williamsburg will explore Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, both of whom were educated at William & Mary.
“We’re talking about Thomas Jefferson and the role he played in creating the intellect of the revolution and James Monroe, [who went on to become the fifth president of the United States],” Ellsworth said.
On Friday, Ellsworth and the crew went to the Yorktown battlefields to film for part of an episode about Alexander Hamilton. That episode will detail Hamilton’s leadership of troops during an attack on Redoubt 10 during the battle of Yorktown.
Ellsworth taught history at Highland High School in Salt Lake City in the years before he began his show, which began in 2011. He has gone on to film eight seasons — and to land roles in films including High School Musical 3: Senior Year — using the freedom of the open road as a way to discuss American history.
“When you’re in a car, you’re in a cage,” he said. “But when you’re on a bike, you’re free. I just say ‘throttle up, baby.’”
That freedom has led Ellsworth across the mainland U.S., Hawaii and Europe. The episodes, which run for 30 minutes, feature him talking about the historical significance of the places he visits in an approachable way, reminiscent of an engaging high school history lecture.
The eight seasons of the show have attracted a national audience, including some people who recognized him while he was filming in Colonial Williamsburg on Wednesday.
The trip to Williamsburg was also special for the show’s director, Matt Hodgson.
“My parents come [to Colonial Williamsburg] every year,” he said. “We had an amazing day there. They’ve told me for years to come. There aren’t many places around the country with this kind of nod to history.”
Ellsworth said he was inspired by walking the same paths at William & Mary that were once the stomping ground of American legends like George Washington, Jefferson and Monroe.
The episodes filmed in the Historic Triangle will air on BYU-TV during the ninth season’s run, starting in October. Past episodes can be viewed here.
BYU-TV is a television channel operated by Brigham Young University, a private college based in Provo, Utah, that is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church.