May 7, 2011

An Evening With Honest Abe

Abraham Lincoln impersonator Steve Wood
of Claremont will be acting as the 16th President
 of the United States when the
Chester Historical Society presents
 “A Visit with Abe Lincoln,” May 9
at Stevens Memorial Hall in Chester.
Union Leader Correspondent
CHESTER -- Stephen Wood is what you might call a Lincoln savant.
Of course, he prefers “living history presenter.” Either way, when he takes the stage in his stovepipe hat sporting his moustache- impaired chin-curtain beard, there is no mistaking that you are in the presence of a guy who knows a lot about Lincoln — and not just because he looks and talks just like you’ve always imagined the real Abraham Lincoln would.
Wood will admit that until about 15 years ago, when someone pointed out the resemblance, he’d never considered role playing America’s 16th president for pleasure.
But since then he’s thoroughly enjoyed taking his show on the road. On May 9 he will be doing one of several staged presentations from his arsenal of canned Lincoln material for an appreciative history-loving crowd at Stevens Memorial Hall in Chester. “What I’ve done pretty consistently for New Hampshire audiences is relating several anecdotes regarding Lincoln’s 1860 visit to the state following his Cooper Union address in New York City. It was a series of four stops in New Hampshire during his tour of New England during which he deliv­
ered 11 speeches,” Wood said. After reciting the Gettysburg Address, Wood will follow up with a Q&A session, during which he will try not to slip back into character. 

“I don’t normally answer questions, at least consciously, responding as Abraham Lincoln. Obviously, there are some questions people could ask that only Abe would know. Or, for example, if you asked about Obama — or most anything in the present day — if I were to stay in character, all I could do is shake my head, since Abe isn’t from this time,” Wood said. 
He’s learned a lot about Abe along the way. For instance, most people don’t know that he was born and raised in Kentucky until he was 21, even though everyone knows Illinois as “the Land of Lincoln.” Or that his speaking voice was unusually high pitched — like a high tenor. 
“I’m guessing he discovered that in terms of public speaking, a high-pitched voice carried further,” Wood said. 
“The first time I was recruited to portray Lincoln in 1995 in Claremont, it was for a reenactment of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. I only found out later that I wasn’t historically correct — Lincoln was actually clean shaven until right after he was elected president,” Wood said. 
Sometimes his wife, Sharon Wood, joins him as Mary Todd Lincoln. 
“I only do Abe, but my wife also portrays several other historical characters,” said Wood, including magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale, and as Betsey Phelps, mother of a Union soldier from Amherst who died at the Battle of Gettysburg. 
“Relatively speaking, I guess I do know more than most people know about Abe Lincoln. In terms of the times and issues of the day, my wife and I occasionally are reminded that, even though we’ve done a lot of research and reading and studying in order to respond to questions, we don’t always know all the answers, which means we need to do even more research,” Wood said. “But we also have to remind ourselves that not everybody has the level of interest in the Lincolns that we do.” 
“A Visit with Abraham Lincoln,” is May 9 at 7 p.m. at Stevens Memorial Hall, 1 Chester Road in Chester. The free program is presented by the Chester Historical Society in conjunction with a grant from the New Hampshire Humanities Council. For more information, contact Don Brown at 887-3842. 

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