Why pose as Abraham Lincoln? It's personal.

Reenactors play the part of America's 16th president for a variety of reasons, but one stands out: admiration.

Born February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln began life in a log cabin and ended up in the White House. His story inspired historical presenter Gerald Bestrom, who painted his motor home to resemble a log cabin and traveled across the Midwest performing in schools and nursing homes until his death in 2012.
Photograph by Greta Pratt
<p>Joseph Woodard first portrayed a young, beardless Lincoln at the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site in Illinois. “Lincoln’s presidential period was his time of greatness,” Woodard wrote to photographer Greta Pratt. “I wouldn’t have felt adequate to portray the wartime president and Great Emancipator, but I did feel up to portraying the small-town lawyer and politician.”</p>

Joseph Woodard first portrayed a young, beardless Lincoln at the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site in Illinois. “Lincoln’s presidential period was his time of greatness,” Woodard wrote to photographer Greta Pratt. “I wouldn’t have felt adequate to portray the wartime president and Great Emancipator, but I did feel up to portraying the small-town lawyer and politician.”

Photograph by Greta Pratt

Abraham Lincoln is one of America’s most esteemed past presidents. Every school child learns about his humble upbringing in a log cabin, how he walked miles to borrow a book, how he read by the light of a kerosene lantern. Physically Lincoln was tall and gangly, with a hollow face and unruly hair. Yet in spite of his awkwardness, modest means, and lack of formal education, he rose to the highest office in the land. There he liberated millions of enslaved people and led the nation to a "new birth of freedom". In the 2000s I attended four conventions of the Association of Lincoln Presenters, an organization of men and women who are passionate about the Great Emancipator. They spend time studying and reading about Lincoln, and they perform for school groups, community celebrations, and senior citizen centers. I photographed 19 presidential presenters and asked each to write about why he dresses and acts as Lincoln. Short excerpts accompany each of the portraits presented here. Sadly, some of these "living Lincolns" have passed away, but their stories still speak to the enduring appeal of America's 16th president.

Greta Pratt is a professor of photography at Old Dominion University in Virginia. A book of her Lincoln images, titled Nineteen Lincolns, will be published this year by Peanut Press. See more of her work on her website or by following her on Instagram.

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