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LAUREL, Miss. -- Was George W. Bush in Laurel Sunday night? A lot of people thought he was, including the local newspaper.

Bethlehem Community Church had advertised "a special guest," and on the stage, surrounded by guys in suits, was a guy who looked a lot like the 43rd president.

That special guest was John Morgan, an Orlando, Florida native who has spent the last 12 years impersonating the former president.

The Laurel Leader-Call posted a blurry photo on Facebook saying that George W. Bush was the special guest at Bethlehem Community Church on Sunday night. That post drew hundreds of comments from all kinds of people, some of whom were fans of the former president and some of whom were not.

Leader-Call owner Jim Cegielski said the photo was taken by his editor, Mark Thornton, who was convinced he was looking at the real George W. Bush.

"He sent the photo to a reporter, who posted it to our page. Both of them clearly thought that it was actually George Bush," Cegielski said. "He certainly fooled us, until the guy admitted that he was an impersonator."

After some amount of time, the Leader-Call posted another update that said, "George W. Bush was NOT in Laurel tonight. It was an impersonator. Tell us your thoughts."

"The fun thing is that nobody ever said George W. Bush," Morgan said. "They just said, 'Welcome our special guest.'"

Bethlehem had put out a flier that said, "You're not going to believe who's coming to Bethlehem!" A roadside sign said, "It's a surprise! Mystery Guest!"

Morgan said in his years portraying the president he admires quite a bit, he has seen the events publicized several different ways. But the most effective is the "special guest" way.

"I've seen it billed a multitude of ways, but it seems to work best when there's no clue given as to who the guest is and it's just billed as a mystery guest," Morgan said. "The psychology behind that is a mystery to me, but I think it's wonderful because it seems to work. Nobody wants to miss out on seeing who the special guest is."

But part of what makes his job fun is making the President seem just a little more accessible to the common man, Morgan said.

"We all want to experience access to people who are famous," he said. "We will engage in the wiling suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the experience. That's why the lookalike industry works, just for the fun of it."

One post said even the Sheriff's Department thought the mystery speaker was, in fact, George W. Bush.

Sheriff Alex Hodge said he personally was in the loop on the mystery guest, but that he did not inform his employees as to who it was so as not to spoil the surprise. He said his deputies who volunteered to work routine security were told that it was a security detail at Bethlehem Community Church. He said that is not unusual for revivals or fundraisers, and that the security is an all-volunteer force.

"We had uniformed deputies who escorted him to the church, then I had some uniformed and some plainclothes deputies at the church," Hodge said. "Once the cat was out of the bag, I started releasing my folks. Most of them stayed for the program, but some of them went on home."

Morgan also had escorts in black suits who looked like Secret Service agents.

"It is fun, the more people that can create the atmosphere of realism, the greater the impact of the event," he said. "But I always make sure, depending on the scenario, I don't want anybody to be actually fooled. At some point, I'll step out of character and introduce myself."

Morgan said he's never performed for the real George W. Bush, but that he has met him.

"I met him and said, 'It's an honor to be your lookalike,'" Morgan said. "He looked at me and said, 'I feel sorry for you.'"

Many who attended the church service on Sunday believed they had been joined by the former president.

One church member had posted to the church's page, "George W. Bush is here at Bethlehem Community Church !!!!!!!!!" When another member commented to her that it was a fake, she wrote, "Yes he was but I believed and now I'm upset."

Bethlehem Church's pastor was not immediately available for comment Monday morning.

Under a Facebook photo of the roadside sign used to help publicize the event, a member had commented, "We going make the news next Monday !!! !"



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: 'Mystery guest' fools Miss. community

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