About three dozen Abraham Lincoln impersonators from around the U.S. assembled in Columbus, Ohio, on April 12, 2013, for the 19th-annual convention of the Association of Lincoln Presenters. The Lincoln impersonators gathered to relive the experiences of Abraham Lincoln by enacting various events that happened in the former president's life.
On Friday morning, Jerry Payn, a Lincoln from Wooster, Ohio, stepped to the podium in the Ohio House chamber and delivered word-for-word the speech given by Lincoln in the same room just before his inauguration in 1861. Payn, a 74-year-old retired junior high school science teacher, has been playing Lincoln since 1999 and does as many as 100 gigs a year. He says the key to being a great Lincoln is gaining in-depth knowledge of his life, speeches and writings.
Later that night, all the Lincolns went to a high school in suburban Columbus to see a student production of "Our American Cousin," the play Lincoln was watching when he was shot at Ford's Theater in Washington on April 15, 1865. The crack of a snare drum marked the exact moment in the show when the shot was fired, and a student portraying Lincoln's wife added a scream for dramatic effect.
The impersonators in Columbus range from well under 6 feet tall to Lincoln's actual height of 6-foot-4. Some are barrel-chested, some slight, while others are plump. Some have grey beards, some black and one even beardless Lincoln. The costumes also vary greatly in extravagance.
"We're presenters. We're not impersonators, necessarily," said one look-alike named Robert Broski says. "You don't have to look like Mr. Lincoln. But if you take a beard, a top hat and a frock coat and put it on, people instantly know who you are. What's important is getting across his character, his honesty, his integrity."
Robert Broski, 60, who lives near Los Angeles, looked so much like Lincoln even without the whiskers that he was persuaded to portray him in an independent film about five years ago.
The Association of Lincoln Presenters was borne, 25 years ago, out of one man’s obsession for Abraham Lincoln. John Cooper, a resident of Ohio, who bore a passing resemblance to the president, one day decided to dress up like Lincoln to track or treat with kids on Halloween. He donned a frock coat he found in his mother's attic, sprayed a little paint on his beard and his wife fashioned a stovepipe hat out of cardboard. He was so convincing that before long he was invited to come to schools in costume around Presidents Day. Then people started paying him to show up at their events in character to talk about the 16th president. The rest, as they say, is history.
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