The Association of Lincoln Presenters (ALP) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to reenacting Abraham Lincoln at events all around the United States. The ALP website differentiates itself form the other 1500 Abraham Lincoln sites by being the only one that can bring 150 living “Lincolns” directly to its customers . Customers can browse through the bios of 153 Lincolns, reading about their location, specialties, and experience; most Lincolns even provide a website or picture of themselves. Lincolns associated with ALP, however, do much more than impersonate the sixteenth president. The ALP’s mission is to “preserve the legacy of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, to honor their words and works, and walk in their footsteps” . In interviews with the Lincolns, it is obvious that the ALP and its members impersonate Lincoln to demonstrate how he is a continuous figure with wisdom to spread. The ALP’s work is not a pastime, but instead an important act that continues Lincoln’s legacy. Although a vernacular group comprised of individuals, the ALP remembers a dominant perspective of Lincoln; the belief that Abraham Lincoln is the official “Savior of the Union”. In the present day this is enacted by remembering his wisdom as very much alive. As stated by ALP member Chris Small, the liveliness remembered by ALP characterizes Lincoln as “the ultimate embodiment of the American dream and of humanity’s best values” .
Bringing Lincoln to Life: “Savior of the Union”
For the ALP, impersonations are often about a specific aspect of Lincoln’s life. The phase that is most often depicted is Lincoln in the later years of his presidency. In Abraham Lincoln in American Memory, Merrill Peterson describes the five types of Lincoln that are commemorated: “Savior of the Union”, “The Great Emancipator”, “Man of the People”, “The First American”, and “The Self-Made Man”. The ALP Lincolns’ performances often depict Lincoln as “Savior of the Union”, a portrayal of Lincoln’s belief “in the indivisibility of the American state” . As a “Savior of the Union”, ALP presenters use performance to portray Lincoln and the United States as virtuous, powerful, and successful. In this sense, the ALP is choosing to remember a dominant perspective of Abraham Lincoln. This is seen in the group’s annual newsletter “Lincarnations”. This newsletter edition, published February 2014, gives advice to members, reminding them of how they should not only dress, but act and answer questions. The letter tells the Lincolns to remember, “He was incredibly successful.’People overestimate how much of a failure he was… He was a classic self-made man'”, as well as “his dedication to the nation he served” . The ALP is committed to portraying and remembering Lincoln’s devotion to the American people, which allowed him to successfully save the Union.
Ms. Weeks, a fellow classmate, wrote about how Mt. Rushmore depicts Lincoln in an official perspective, as Lincoln serves as a father looking over the American landscape. In her post, Butler analyzes that the sculpture “honor[s] and remember[s] the work of Lincoln” . The ALP and Mt. Rushmore, however, forget certain aspects of Lincoln in order to preserve the official perspective. For example, the ALP does not acknowledge that Lincoln said he had no right to abolish slavery. On the contrary, the ALP performances more closely follows suit of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. For behind Lincoln’s head at the memorial reads the words, “In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union of memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever”. Not only a powerful statement, these words tell people how to think about and remember Lincoln’s legacy. The National Parks Service also confirms how to think about Lincoln, stating that the Lincoln Memorial is an “iconic symbol of our nation and our ideals” . The ALP aligns with Mt. Rushmore and the Lincoln Memorial, remembering Lincoln in an official light as “Savior of the Union” by choosing to forget and not acknowledging challenging elements of Lincoln’s past.
While ALP’s work is to preserve the legacy and honor of Lincoln, the presenters also connect with Abraham Lincoln on different levels, reflecting how individuals can share a collective goal, and belong to an “imagined community” even without being the exact same . For example, written April 16, 2011, an article by Knox News quotes Lincoln impersonator Dennis Boggs: “[t]he only thing we have in common is our interest in Lincoln” . Each Abe has his own reason as to why he impersonates Lincoln, but their performances all strive to do the same thing: spread Lincoln’s virtue. For example, Dennis Boggs describes his career as not being about money, but instead about being a vessel that protects Lincoln in order to spread his word. For Boggs, his Lincoln performances are about educating people and leaving them with wanting to know more .
Another ALP member, Robert Broski, has his own website that lists out his similarities with the sixteenth president with the underlying message, “I was destined to play Abe Lincoln” . This comparative list suggests that to Broski, having commonalities with Lincoln makes his performance more authentic and legitimizes his goal of educating whoever wants to know more about Lincoln.
Yet, another ALP member (in the video link above) makes a connection to Lincoln based upon his religion. He believes that God had a mission for him to be a minister, even when times were tough. It is this spiritual persistence that he says links him to Lincoln; in the video, he says, “I will never give up. Lincoln never gave up. He’s my hero” .
These ALP members tell us much more than their personal stories; they tell us about how we remember Lincoln. Although the sixteenth president passed 150 years ago, he is still admired. And, although it is clear these three ALP members have different reasons for impersonating Lincoln, they share a collective goal—to continue Lincoln’s honorable legacy. According to Benedict Anderson, the ALP would then be an “imagined community”, as each ALP member shares a communion and common goal, although they do not all personally know one another . This tells us that as Americans we remember Lincoln despite our odds because we view him as the epitome of unity, a theme prominent in contemporary America.
Circulating Lincoln’s Memory
“Lincoln’s Funeral Train”, posted by Ms. Reed, is about how Lincoln memory circulates in the United States. She explains that “[b]y gathering together in mass numbers to publicly mourn Lincoln, the American people demonstrated their loyalty to the imagined American community” . Today Americans do not mourn Lincoln’s death, but they still congregate to attend performances by the ALP, like at the association’s annual convention. ALP, like the Funeral Train, physically brings Lincoln to towns across the US. ALP allows people to “interact” with an impersonating Lincoln, although an alive version. Such an act, as Reed explains, is “analogous to commemorating the preservation of the American nation and celebrating the bonds between all Americans regardless of their views” . Circulating Lincoln’s body, or bodies in the case of the ALP, provides a rally point in which communities gather to remember, ponder, and ultimately preserve a fabricated ideal past.