Memory  /  Dispatch

Inside an Annual Gathering of Abraham Lincoln Impersonators

There were 22 Abrahams at the event, which began in 1990.
Benjamin Norman/TIME

Indeed, when it comes to historical second skins, the attitude is as important as the accoutrements. “To me, this guy was important to the country because he saved the Union,” says Wright. He and his wife, Sue Wright, recently joined dozens of other faux-Lincolns for the 25th annual Association of Lincoln Presenters, a conference of reenactors, amateur historians, and other Honest Abe enthusiasts held April 11-14 at the Amicalola State Falls Lodge in Dawsonville, Georgia.

There were 22 Abrahams, 12 Mary Todds, one Robert Todd, one Jefferson Davis, and even one George Perkins Marsh (Lincoln’s ambassador to Italy) present at the event, which began in 1990. The Abrahams, of course, always steal the show.

Wright is always a little on edge while he’s getting ready. Years ago, he played young Lincoln, dressed in field clothes and taking part in “Lincoln Competitions.” “I was splitting rails as Abraham Lincoln; I was cross-cut sawing as Abraham Lincoln, with the same tool he would have used,” says Wright. But the leap from field hand to The Great Emancipator — well, that’s different. “I was here doing Lincoln stuff, but I was not here doing Abraham Lincoln, President, as I am now,” he says.

Most of the re-enactors at the event had previously retired from other lines of work. When not at the annual gathering, they embody Honest Abe at schools, senior centers, company auditoriums — anywhere a curious public beckons. But at the conference, they talk history and Lincoln arcana, sometimes trying to sort the real from the apocryphal.

“Mary Todd Lincoln has a terrible reputation,” said Sue Wright while wearing her hoop dress. “It’s really sad. The men that wrote her history felt like they had to make her look bad to make Abraham look good. I’ve even been called crazy.”

More than half the attendees spend two of the three days in costume. The group has communal dinners and takes side trips to local attractions. This year, the re-enactors toured the mine where the marble for the Lincoln Memorial was sourced. Wherever they go as a tour group, their stove-pipe hats and chin-strap beards and Victorian bustles can’t help but attract attention.