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Heather Essey takes on Charlie Chaplin’s iconic film persona for this year’s Carriage Me Back in Brownsville

BROWNSVILLE — Heather Essey is a mild-mannered Lane Community College student, but the 21-year-old has a secret identity — and that alter ego comes with a black mustache, bowler hat and bamboo cane.

Once in a great while, the Brownsville resident transforms into silent film star Charlie Chaplin.

In doing so, she’s transformed her own personality, said her mother, Debbie Essey.

“With the mask of Chaplin, she became a whole new person. She blossomed,” Debbie Essey said.

Her quiet and serious daughter became more outgoing and starting delivering wiseacre one-liners.

The story of why the lady is the Little Tramp began more than six years ago, when Heather’s older sister brought home the Chaplin classic “The Gold Rush.” Heather quipped that she’d have to be extremely bored to watch a silent movie.

And, so, one December day, the teen was extremely bored.

She watched the Robert Downey Jr. film “Chaplin,” and then viewed “The Gold Rush.”

“As soon as I saw him, I fell in love with him,” Heather said. “I don’t know if I related to his character as a heartbroken little tramp. I don’t know what it was.”

Regardless, she became a huge Chaplin fan.

The next spring, the community’s annual ride-through play, Carriage Me Back, was set in a year when Chaplin was extremely popular.

So Heather dressed up as the Little Tramp and crashed the event, waddling about through town. She had studied Chaplin’s movies to learn his physical comedy mannerisms and even hat tricks.

“People fell in love with it, but they didn’t know who she was,” Debbie Essey laughed.

Heather now dresses up as “Charlie” for Carriage Me Back every year that it’s historically appropriate. Last weekend, the town turned into 1918, so Heather turned up as Chaplin.

She also has attended a Chaplin film at the Elsinore Theatre in Salem in costume, and entered a lookalike contest on the Web, taking second place.

(That’s better than even the Little Tramp himself could do. Chaplin famously entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest incognito and lost.)

Heather also enjoys playing harp in her spare time, as well as drawing, photography, knitting and crocheting.

While she likes modern movies, her favorites are the classics.

In a small way, she’s trying to keep Chaplin alive.

“I like it when people are like, ‘Look, there’s Charlie Chaplin,’ to their kids,” Heather said.  

“I just hope that when people are done seeing me, they go home and show their kids a Chaplin movie.”  

-- To view a video of Heather Essey as Charlie Chaplin, go to YouTube and search for “Carriage Me Back”-1918.

Kyle Odegard covers public safety for the D-H. He can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or kyle.odegard@lee.net.

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