Oyez! Oyez!

Historic Alexandria’s Top Crier.

David Deal

In the internet age of split-second communication, a town crier may seem like an anachronism, but not in Alexandria where a booming “Oyez! Oyez!” often pierces the air and silences crowds at the start of many formal events and ceremonies.

Benjamin Fiore-Walker, 45, Alexandria’s official town crier—dressed in Colonial garb and toting a brass bell and cloth scroll—reads proclamations, announces events and serves as the master of ceremonies for events including the Rum Punch Challenge, Olde Town Dogge Walke and the George Washington Birthday Parade, adding a bit of Colonial flair to the festivities. Fiore-Walker’s talents even helped Alexandria become one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 12 Distinctive Destinations in 2011, adding strong spice to the city’s mix of cobblestone streets, antique lampposts and historic architecture.

Fiore-Walker, who is a pre-clinical science facilitator at the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. where he helps train medical students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, is one of about 350 criers in the U.S. today—he is the only one in Virginia.

To get the gig, Fiore-Walker competed against nearly a dozen other hopefuls in a September 2011 cry-off in which judges rated his voice strength and clarity, and overall deportment. Fiore-Walker, an Alexandria resident since 2002, will be the town crier until he chooses not to be, says Lance Mallamo, director of Historic Alexandria. In the late 1970s, local history buff Francis Taylor Slate volunteered to revive the Colonial-era tradition, and since then, there have only been two other town criers beside Fiore-Walker.

Though the position is voluntary, Fiore-Walker strives for authenticity. He grumbles that Hollywood gets it wrong in most movies, using the familiar “Hear ye, hear ye.” The proper cry, he explains, is the Old French “Oyez, oyez!”

Why is Fiore-Walker, who earned his Ph.D. in neuropsychology at UVA, a town crier? “I love putting myself in the place of others of the past and imagining what it would feel like,” he says. Plus, “I am having a ball.”

AlexandriaVA.gov/TownCrier

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