Under the imposing, 14-foot bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln in the center of Kentucky’s Capitol Rotunda Friday morning, 27 men decked out in black coats and top hats gathered for a group photo with their hero.
“So glad to be back in Kentucky,” said 85-year-old Cortland Savage of Fort Worth, Texas, who has portrayed for 40 years the native son of Kentucky who led the United States through its Civil War in the 1860s.
Members of the Association of Lincoln Presenters invaded Central Kentucky this weekend to visit sites associated with the 16th president of the United States. The men were accompanied by 14 women who dressed up as the president’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and one lone fellow portrayed Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States.
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Since 1995, the presenters in the national organization — they despise being called impersonators — have been visiting Lincoln sites and listening to Lincoln speakers in various states close to his assassination anniversary date of April 14, 1865. This year, they made their third visit to Kentucky.
They are “ready, willing and Abe L.” to find out all they can about the Lincolns and try to bring them to life, says their website.
In addition to visiting the Capitol, old Capitol, Old Governor’s Mansion and Kentucky History Museum in Frankfort on Friday, their agenda this weekend included stops at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County and the Lexington Cemetery and Mary Todd Lincoln house in Lexington on Saturday, and a worship service Sunday at the Keepers House at Ashland, the Lexington home of 19th century statesman Henry Clay.
Debate still rages about whether Lincoln ever visited the Clay home.
Gustavo Sarola, a filmmaker from Austin, Texas, had the biggest top hat among the Lincoln presenters this weekend.
“I’m just getting started as a presenter and it’s a lot of fun,” Sarola said.
Presenter James Mitchell of Hope, Kan., who is retired from the Army, welcomed students who were visiting the Capitol Friday, shaking their hands and telling them he was Abraham Lincoln.
“I do this to see the smiles of people, especially the kids, when they meet President Lincoln,” he said.
Lenny Kleiner of Cincinnati, retired from the U.S. Air Force, has been a Lincoln presenter since 1994. “This is a blast,” he said. “You learn history and meet very interesting people.”
John and Betty Mansfield of Nashville have been presenters for about eight years. “We work as a team,” she said. “We both enjoy it and it keeps us close.”
Homer S. Sewell III of Jasper, Ga., has been to all the presenter conventions. He told Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes on Friday how pretty she is after she read Gov. Matt Bevin’s proclamation welcoming them to Kentucky.
Even though Bevin was not able to greet the presenters, his media team shot video of them.
The one outsider in the group was David Walker of Van Wert, Ohio, located on the Lincoln Highway between Lima, Ohio, and Fort Wayne, Ind. He portrays Jefferson Davis.
“I get along just fine with all these President Lincolns,” he said. “They’re really good people.”