Photo by Chris Casella

Honest Portrayal

First graders are impressionable people.

When Robert Brugler’s first grade class threw a birthday celebration on February 12th, Brugler was sure that the celebration was for him, since his birthday was the following day.

Actually, the class was observing the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, but for Brugler, the mild confusion persisted into adulthood. As a science teacher at Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Brugler took advantage of his beard and 6’4” height, and went 1860s style on his classes, dressing and teaching in the fashion of Abraham Lincoln each February 12th.

It was part of what earned Brugler his “funny guy” reputation during his 35-year career. But Lincoln is serious business for Brugler, who today is a professional Abraham Lincoln historian and presenter. Dressed in period clothing, he’s portrayed the 16th president at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, The Ohio Statehouse, The Ohio Village, The American Civil War Museum of Ohio in Tiffin, and several other historical sites. His wife Barbara often accompanies him, dressed as Mary Todd Lincoln.

Brugler is adamant that appearing as Mr. Lincoln is not a mere game of dress-up. And although he’s read volumes of information about the man, bringing Lincoln to life is more about personally communicating the president’s spirit.

I believe that if you acquire a person’s heart first, the head will follow

“I believe that if you acquire a person’s heart first, the head will follow,” Brugler said. “Interact with the audience before a presentation, get to know them, make them feel comfortable and important. Abe would do the same.”

In addition to historical events, Brugler (as Mr. Lincoln) has appeared at schools, libraries, Civil War reenactments, dinners, weddings, baby showers, and was once an early “Christmas gift” for a Lincoln admirer.

This month, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination, will be a busy one as Brugler meets his counterpart, a Jefferson Davis presenter, at an event to commemorate Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. However, Brugler was able to schedule me for a personal discussion with the president. (White House press pass not necessary.)

You’ve grown into an American legend, and legends usually contain some embellishment. What’s become the greatest public misperception of you? Many folks believe I was well loved during my presidency. Actually I was hated by many in the North and it goes without saying the feelings of the population of the South. During the 1864 elections, I thought I would be beaten for president and the new president would make peace and allow the South to leave the Union. It was General Sherman’s taking of Atlanta that saved my presidency and our nation.

Are you really as “self-taught” as they say? Writing with a coal pencil by candlelight and all that? All in all, I had about one year of official education in a one-room schoolhouse. I was a voracious reader. My reading list ranged from the Bible and Aesop’s fables to Shakespeare and Euclidean geometry.

So you were practicing law without a law degree. How did that work? Back where I come from in Illinois, there were no colleges or universities where I could study law. To become a lawyer, I had to be an apprentice for a period of time and have other lawyers vouch for my integrity. I practiced any and all forms of law—from hog stealing to slander, from property disputes to murder.

Any unusual facts we don’t know about you? In my ninth year, I was kicked in the head by a horse and was unconscious for nearly 24 hours. This injury caused my face to be asymmetrical. At times my left eye would wander to the left, causing blurred vision.

God, that sounds painful. Is that why you look so serious in photos? No for photographs taken indoors 150 years ago, a person had to sit perfectly still for up to 30 seconds. Any movement would cause the image to be blurred.

Your wife brought a medium into the White House to communicate with your dead son Willie. Was this the beginning of your premonitions of assassination? What first needs to be understood is that many, many prominent people sought comfort through mediums. With over one half million soldiers killed or missing, there was drastic need for comfort. That being said, I considered most of them as charlatans preying upon the grief of others. I am a believer that dreams can give portent to the future. My premonition about being assassinated only occurred towards the end of the war. Once I was nominated for president, I received death threats. In my presidential office, I kept a folder containing threats to my life.

Were any of those threats from vampires? I know nothing about that, what have you heard?

Ummm…never mind. Your hope for a Lincoln legacy is…? This nation will not be divided and that slavery will exist no more.

Find out more about Abraham Lincoln and Brugler’s presentations and schedule at VisitWithAbe.com.

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