Abe Lincoln — or a reasonable facsimile — will be back at the Delaware County Fair this year.
The fair starts today and runs through next Saturday, Sept. 26.
For the last six years, John Cooper of Baltimore, Ohio, has been a professional Abraham Lincoln presenter, entertaining audiences at schools, churches and other functions. Last year, Cooper made his debut as a strolling entertainer at Delaware’s county fair.
“They wrote a story about me in Country Living magazine,” Cooper said at the time. “Carolyn Riggle (Delaware’s mayor and Agricultural Society member) saw that story and said, ‘I want him for the fair.’ Hopefully, the people enjoy me enough to bring me back next year.” (They did.)
Cooper will appear at the fair — dressed as the nation’s 16th president — from noon to 6 p.m. today and Tuesday, Sept. 22; and 1 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23.
Observed briefly last year during his six-hour stroll, the now-beloved president chatted with several of his constituents, regaling them with well-researched anecdotes about Jefferson Davis, cabinet members, and his political party.
“I brag that no one can stump me,” Cooper said afterward, noting that he has read 100 books on Lincoln. “I’ve gone to historical societies and they ask questions, and they never stump me.”
Children, upon seeing the former president, light up with recognition and smile.
“The best part is the people’s reactions to seeing Lincoln,” Cooper said. “Most of them are happy. What’s so great about portraying Lincoln is everybody likes him. It doesn’t matter what race, gender or age. The only other one you can say that about is Elvis (Presley), and he’s the only one who has more impersonators.”
Cooper said he knows and is friends with many of the 110 professional Lincoln impersonators working in 35 states, including nine Ohioans.
He first portrayed Lincoln 25 years ago, when he accompanied his four kids on Halloween. Then he made some school appearances as Lincoln before being asked to recite the Gettysburg Address at Baltimore’s bicentennial. After that, he began to play Lincoln for pay, starting with the Ohio State Fair in 2009. Now retired, Cooper makes 45 appearances a year as Lincoln.
“I’ve always been interested in history, and it was an easy conversion from just being me to picking up Abraham Lincoln,” he said. “They say I stand like Lincoln now, very straight, and I have adopted his mannerisms.”
He said his children think his alter ego is pretty cool, except when he starts “pontificating at the the dinner table. … The kids say, ‘Dad’s going Lincoln on us.’ ”
As for his wife, he said that she avoids being seen with him when he’s in character, because people expect her to be dressed up as historical spouse Mary Todd Lincoln. She also doesn’t go to the Lincoln impersonator conventions anymore, because she “had nightmares that she was going to grab the wrong Lincoln.”
Cooper admires the man he portrays.
“The thing that stands out the most about Lincoln, and I think that’s why he’s so widely respected, is his character and the fact that he was honest, sincere and that he stood on his principles, regardless of popularity or public opinion. People don’t realize today that through most of his administration, he was extremely unpopular, as unpopular as any recent president has ever been.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.