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.”
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.