Performing to a sea of stovepipe hats

Every person’s life is worthy of a book. I hope you are writing yours, or saving and collecting the material to one day write it.

I am in the midst of mine.

For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web page I hope you find it interesting.

The book is titled, Live Long*, Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

The Association of Lincoln Presenters

The folks in Tinsel Town A.K.A Hollywood and surrounding environs may be forgiven for their jaded outlook. In the city where crazy is often the norm, they have seen and usually yawned at it all. But not even they could breeze by the hotel lobby in Burbank that day. A sea of stove pipe hats crowning dark beards, black suits and often long lean Abraham Lincolns froze them in their tracks. I know. I was there

I am a member of the Association of Lincoln Presenters. As Lincoln drew his final breath that April 15 morning in 1865 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton standing at his bedside spoke this prediction, “Now he belongs to the ages.”

For us of the ALP, The motto is, “Now he belongs to the stages.” Our purpose is to keep the life and words of Abraham Lincoln alive through public performances. The assorted Abes and others convene every year, usually in Kentucky or Illinois at locations significant to the Lincoln legacy. The group now also includes a few Mary Todd Lincolns, one Laura Keene (star of Our American Cousin when it played Ford’s Theater the fateful night of April 14, 1865) and other historic notables; even a few confederate generals. There are no John Wilkes Booth presenters, nor would they be welcome.

I was in Burbank California at the request of the association to present my show on Lincoln. It was different from the other presenters in that I include the voices of other people as they interacted with Lincoln. I also perform music of the time, accompanying myself on guitar, to set the scenes and add to the emotions of the stories.

My life and my performances were both brightened when Sharon and I were married. She sings, accompanies us on piano banjo and autoharp, and takes the part of Julia Ward Howe as we recreate the night when Howe wrote The Battle Hymn of the republic.

The late Dan Bassuk, founder and former president of the organization asked me to participate in an essay contest on the subject “How Lincoln changed my life.” I won the contest with this contribution.

How Lincoln changed my life

“You. Please come up here.”

I looked behind me. No he really was pointing at me. Gangly, tousle-haired, bony-faced me. Normally our group of fourth grade boys tried to keep a low profile. If some adult with authority took notice of us there was usually work or trouble brewing. But this was an assembly, and the presenter was an expert in theatrics. So I popped up to the stand. He sat me down and a few minutes of makeup later had me looking like a ten-year-old version of Abraham Lincoln. My friends hooted and called me Abe. It took them a few days to get over it. I never did.

As a boy I remember the magazine ads the Lincoln Life Insurance Company ran for years. Well written and ending with a line that made me feel closer to the great man. “Abraham Lincoln. He was all of us grown a little taller.”

I grew a little taller, then still a little taller until I was the same height as Mr. Lincoln. I was also, “lean in flesh, weighing on average 180 pounds,” as he once described himself. Actually it took me a more than a few years to make 180 pounds but I finally did.

The more I learned about Lincoln the more he inspired me. I admired his integrity in business, law and politics, his fidelity to Mary even though she wasn’t the easiest person to live with. I was impressed that he would shun alcohol and tobacco in a frontier society that considered those things food and drink. I enjoyed his sense of humor.

Later as an entertainer and writer I used stories and situations from Lincoln’s life to present the best of what America stands for. My partner and I reenacted excerpts from the Lincoln Douglas debates. We recorded an album of music from American history that featured songs he loved; including “Dixie” which he called one of the spoils the North won in the Civil War. Later I would develop my own presentation on Lincoln’s life and times and be privileged to associate with the good people of the ALP.

Of late I am more and more impressed by the greatness of Lincoln’s soul. His choice of Edwin Stanton, William Seward, Salmon Chase, and others in his cabinet despite their initial condescending and insulting manner; Lincoln’s personal suffering over the sickness, wounds and death of soldiers on both sides of the conflict moved me. His agony when he lost his son Willie, his willingness to wear himself into the shadow of the grave for his beloved country, his wisdom on when to compromise and when to stand firm; his ability to hang on when success appeared impossible, these virtues are beacons to my life as I seek wisdom to guide my maturing years.

My love of Lincoln began as a child when somebody thought I looked like him. My goal as an adult is to be like him.

Your next installment is: Twenty-six years, 17 pregnancies, 15 children

Everybody I know is busy, including me. Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.

I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)

The questions are these:“A” How much did you enjoy this?“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?

The rating is:1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door

So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)

Also feel free to add comments if you like.

Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.