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How one man brings Abe Lincoln to life

J.P. Wammack is one of hundreds of people who put on public presentations of the 16th president at schools, libraries, and other venues.

By Christina McCarrollCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 11, 2008

Students from Columbus Elementary School in Glendale, Calif.

doug kim/special to the christian science monitor

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south Pasadena, Calif.

Abraham Lincoln orders fish and chips. We're at the Wild Thyme restaurant here, out to dinner with the Civil War Round Table of San Gabriel Valley, and J.P. Wammack – in full Lincoln regalia – listens attentively to his countrymen as he sips a Coke.

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There's talk of Lincoln biographies, of California's role in the Civil War (yes, it had one), and most animatedly of the imminent birth of Mr. Wammack's grandson. A server rushes in to greet Wammack-as-Lincoln: She's homeschooling her son, and the boy admires Lincoln so much that at one point he wanted the 16th president tattooed on his back. Wammack smiles and nods. The real Lincoln may have faced the Civil War, but I doubt he ever imagined his visage framed by a boy's scapulae. [Editor's note: The original version misidentified the relative of J.P. Wammack who was about to be born.]

Wammack is a Lincoln presenter – one of about 315 members of the Association of Lincoln Presenters (ALP) who labor to, as the group's motto goes, "rouse the Lincoln in you all." This weekend, the ALP (which includes 53 Mary Todds and a smattering of other historic personages) will touch down in Alton, Ill., site of the final Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858, to swap tips on everything from lapel microphones to beaver-felt hats.

Wammack will be there, too. But on this February night, he's having dinner at Wild Thyme as a precursor to his talk at the nearby Allendale Branch Library. He's winding down an epic month, having given more than 25 talks. In the small, flat-roofed library, 12 men and women gather in the young-adult section. They're knitting, whispering, and looking around for Lincoln, restless among CliffsNotes, a globe, and Hardy Boys paperbacks.

After a quick auction of Lincoln-related books and a rundown of upcoming events (Jefferson Davis and his wife, Varina, will stop by on May 22), Wammack steps before the crowd. It's a convivial group, and as Wammack warms them up with some Lincoln trivia, his voice is patient and smooth. He tells of his work as a surveyor, his foundering general store, his failed run for the Illinois legislature, and his decision to become a lawyer. When he quotes Lincoln, he doffs his hat and holds it at arm's length: "Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection," he says.