Lincoln's life and times recounted

April 30, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

HUSTONTOWN, Pa. - Members of the Fulton County Historical Society took visitors back 140 years Tuesday night when they introduced Abraham Lincoln as the guest speaker at their annual dinner meeting in the Hustontown Fire Hall.

It wasn't really Lincoln. He's been dead for 138 years, but Jim Getty, a Lincoln impersonator, gave a pretty good impression of how the 16th president might have looked and sounded in the middle of his presidency in 1863.

Getty, 71, of Gettysburg, Pa., has been presenting his home-spun version of Lincoln since 1978 when he and his wife, Joanne, moved to Gettysburg "to start new careers." Before that, he was a high school music teacher in Sandusky, Ohio.


Joanne became his business manager and booking agent.

By chance, he grew a beard and people started telling him that he looked like Lincoln, he said. He didn't know a thing about Lincoln when he started.

Years of study and research changed that. Today, his books on Lincoln take up much of the space in his house, he said.

He spends most of the warmer months performing at his own Battle Theatre in Gettysburg, sometimes up to four times a day when the buses roll in. The rest of the year finds him on the road at schools and colleges, business and government functions.

He's been on television and his "Lincoln" voice has been featured on several programs on the A&E network.

Tuesday night's audience of 100 in the fire hall listened attentively as Getty mixed history and wit in describing Lincoln's ancestors and his own life growing up first in Kentucky and then in Indiana, before striking out at age 21 in 1830 for New Salem, Ill.

He spoke about his career in state politics, law, one term in Congress from 1847-1849, and his journey to the White House and the Civil War.

Prior to the performance, Getty was asked what he most admired about Lincoln. "It was his tenacity," he said. "How he hung on and had that spark of leadership that led the country through it."

He said he always is asked to portray Lincoln at Gettysburg's annual Remembrance Day celebration in which Union and Confederate re-enactors meet again at the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy" at the battlefield.

"There's always one confederate regiment that turns its back when I start to say the Gettysburg Address," he said.

Getty dispelled one Lincoln myth - that he wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back on an envelope on the way to the town. The commemoration of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg was held Nov. 19, 1863, about 41/2 months after the battle.

"Lincoln was invited to speak there on Nov. 2. He had plenty of time to write it. He wrote it on two pieces of White House stationery," Getty said.

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