My kids were in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and they would march in the Alexandria parade. I always wondered, George Washington is in the Presidents’ Day parade,but no Abraham Lincoln? That’s what got me started doing this. I decided I would — at least that year — become Abe Lincoln in the parade. So I grew the beard and rented the costume and showed up. The mayor and George Washington were there, so I went up to shake his hand for the first time. And the mouths were open.
I look a little like Lincoln, but I don’t know if it’s close enough because I’m looking in the mirror; I’m not looking like others are. Since then, I’ve mostly had the beard. Sometimes I let it grow longer, let it grow shorter, but for the most part I keep it, because the problem is, I have so many people that want me to do Abe. I don’t always know ahead of time.
I’ve had a big variety of experiences. My fondest memory that’s so personal to me is: The U.S. Department of Agriculture dedicated their Lincoln library in Greenville, and they asked me to come over and present Lincoln as part of that. Obviously, when you meet people of importance in our society — Supreme Court justices, senators and whatnot — those are memorable things. But the reason I keep doing this is the reaction of kids. You go in, and you truly look the part of this icon. And the distinctive beard and the hat — those are the two things they most connect with. And you go to shake their hand. They’re staring where your hand is, and their head kind of slowly rises, and they come to the top of your face and your hat, and their mouths get more and more open as they go up. Their eyes get bigger and bigger. This is truly an awesome experience. Some kids don’t think for a second that you’re Lincoln. Others are just absolutely convinced.
You can’t help but think about Lincoln, and what an effective leader he was, and how he was able to bring very different factions together. Obviously, the Civil War is the one people think about the most, but he really set the land grants university system, the Homestead Act, and began the authorizing of the continental railroad. And there are lots of other things he did that were really just monumental. But the key thing that you think about when you’re Lincoln is his personal integrity, willingness to listen and, ultimately, his ability to bring people together to accomplish important things. He’s really what I call the better angels of our nature, and that’s what he brings out in me.