Lincoln presenters coming to town

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National association conducts meeting in area

By Ron Benningfield

Look for a lot of tall men wearing stovepipe hats Saturday, April 17, in Hodgenville, for that is the date when more than 50 Abraham and Mary Lincoln presenters will be in town as the national Association of Lincoln Presenters come to Hardin and LaRue counties.

Larry Elliott of Louisville, who has close ties with Hodgenville and is distantly related to the midwife who helped deliver the 16th President, is coordinating the event with his wife, Mary, and several others.

“The theme of this year’s meeting is “Where It All Began,” said Elliott, whose grandmother four times removed (Mary Brooks LaRue Enlow Rathbone) helped bring young Abe into the world.

Elliott said the visit to Lincoln’s birthplace and surrounding areas is very appropriate, since it comes on the heels of the President’s bicentennial celebration. The date also falls near the anniversary of his death, April 15, 1865.

The group of Lincoln portrayers from throughout the United States is scheduled to arrive in Hodgenville late morning April 17, being available for photos on the town square until 1:45 p.m. when they leave for Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park, staying there until 4 p.m.

On April 16, they travel to Springfield where Lincoln’s parents were married, and that evening to the Performing Arts Center in Elizabethtown where Glen Rice will present a tribute to the President during his concert.

The ALP members will attend Sunday services at South Fork Baptist Church where Thomas Lincoln worshipped and was baptized in a nearby creek.

Elliott, whose father lived in Hodgenville before moving to Louisville, has much in common with LaRue County’s favorite son. 

“I’m the same height as Lincoln, 6 feet, 4 inches,” he said. “I have four sons as did Lincoln with both the oldest born in August, his (Robert Todd) in 1843, and mine in 1978.”

He became interested in being a Lincoln portrayer when he visited Lincoln Days in 2003 and entered the Lincoln look-alike contest.

“I rented an outfit for the contest, but it came with another type hat instead of the stovepipe,” he said. 

Though he didn’t win, one presenter there, Jim Sayre of Lawrenceburg, invited Elliott to join the ALP association.

Since that time, Elliott’s wife agreed to portray Mary Todd Lincoln, and they, like most other of the association’s 200 members, travel to schools and other sites to make their presentations.

Elliott said his wife, who has studied Mary Todd Lincoln’s life extensively, seeks to present her not as a moody, free spending, capricious First Lady, but as a woman who endured many tribulations and tragedies which she battled to overcome.

His presentations also provide many varied excerpts from Lincoln’s life.

“People might think that our lone presentation is the Gettysburg Address,” Elliott said. “However, his first and second inaugural addresses were most important to the country, and most of us prepare several different presentations, each with our own styles of elocution.”

One of his portrayals, in coordination with the Old Festival Days in Salem, Ind., re-creates the Lincoln assassination with a cast of 10 characters.

When presenting at schools, Elliott always expect questions on the reality of his beard and usually endures the obligatory tugging at his whiskers by the young questioner just to make sure.

His second most-asked question concerns Lincoln’s height.

“Of course, when portraying Lincoln, we presenters always use first person, so I tell them that I am 5 feet 16 inches,” he quipped. “That gets a lot of raised eyebrows from the little ones, and we get to review a little math figuring what that total is.”

Kentucky’s gift

Sayre, a multi-time winner of Lincoln Days look-alike contests and 2009’s Lincoln Days Parade grand marshal, is a member of the ALP board. He describes Lincoln as “Kentucky’s gift to the nation.”

Like Elliott and the other portrayers, Sayre keeps that gift alive through reminding students of the honesty, work ethic, perseverance, and upright lifestyle of Lincoln.

He recalled presenting to a group of children about how Lincoln’s life was void of drugs and alcohol. 

“After my presentation, the teacher asked her kids to write letters to me,” he said. “I think I made an impression on at least one youngster, because his short letter simply stated, ‘Dear Mr. Lincoln, I won’t drink no beer.’”

Among his most asked questions are “How old was Lincoln when he died (56)?” and “Does Lincoln have any direct descendants?”

Sayre said the last direct descendant, Robert Beckwith, Lincoln’s great grandson, died in 1985.

“There are a lot of cousins on the Sparrows and Hanks side, but no more direct descendants,” Sayre said.

Public performance, dinner

The public will have an opportunity to meet and dine with the Lincoln portrayers by attending “The Many Faces of Lincoln” 6:30 p.m. April 17 at Pritchard Community Center’s Pine Room in Elizabethtown. 

Those attending may attend a silent auction of Lincoln memorabilia, enjoy a meal, plus see and hear 10 different four-minute portrayals of the late President. Elliott said a limited number of tickets are available at $30 each at The Lincoln Museum. Tickets must be purchased today so the caterer can be prepared.