Saturday, December 22, 2012
 
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Local artist John Sutton presents President Lincoln with a gift

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[December 22, 2012]  Friday afternoon, just in time for Christmas, local artist John Sutton presented a gift of a portrait to Gary Simpkins.

Simpkins and his wife, Carol, are better known to the community as President Abraham Lincoln and wife Mary Todd Lincoln. They spend countless hours portraying the president and first lady. Their appearances locally include annual visits to the Railsplitter Festival, where they are usually special guests at the Friday night Civil War Ball, as well as making appearances at the Logan County Fairgrounds on Saturday and Sunday.

The couple resides in Heyworth and has established the Simpkins Military History Museum there.

Sutton is known in the area for his carpentry abilities as well as his dedication to the Railsplitter Festival, tourism in general, Habitat for Humanity, and he has been a huge asset in the restoration of The Mill on Route 66.

Sutton said that at the most recent event at Postville Courthouse, he found tourism volunteer Nancy Saul taking pictures around the grounds. He pulled her off to the side and asked her to get a good shot of Simpkins. When she produced the photo he had requested, he said it was the perfect expression. Sutton then set to putting the image on paper in the form of a pencil drawing.

Sutton noted the most time-consuming portion of the drawing was the design of the beard. He said he penciled each individual hair in the beard so that it would offer the perfect amount of detail for the picture.

Friday afternoon the presentation of the drawing was made at the Information Station on Fifth Street, with tourism director Geoff Ladd hosting the event.

While a photo of Sutton presenting the drawing to Simpkins took only a couple of minutes, Simpkins lingered for quite some time sharing stories of his experiences at Abraham Lincoln.

Simpkins has been portraying Lincoln for several decades. He noted that today he is 66 years of age, 10 years older than Lincoln was when he was assassinated. Simpkins said he has changed somewhat physically over the years, but he is still easily recognized as the 16th president.

Carol and Gary Simpkins perform as the president and first lady in a number of ways. Gary explained that they make appearances where they visit with sightseers, such as when they are at Postville, but they also have a one-hour-plus presentation they do where they walk through the life of Lincoln and his wife, Mary.

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The presentation begins with their births, goes through their growing up and into the assassination of Lincoln. There are also points in the presentation when Simpkins takes on the roles of both a Union and a Confederate soldier. After the presidentís death, they continue the story until the time when Mary Todd also dies.

In addition to attending historical events as the Lincolns, the couple also take on the roles at various schools during Reading Is Fundamental programs.

Simpkins recalled one such event several years ago when they were at the school for an assembly. The children in attendance were first-, second- and third-graders.

Simpkins said the teacher had played up their arrival, getting the children excited by telling them the president of the United Sates was going to pay them a visit.

When he finally entered the auditorium from the back and walked to the front, where he would take the stage, he heard one little boy lament: "Lincoln! I thought we were going to meet Clinton!" Simpkins said it was so humorous that when he took the stage, he had a very difficult time playing the solemn role of the 16th president.

Simpkins also talked about being stopped for speeding when he and Carol were in their full Lincoln garb, and about the fact that there are people who walk up and start talking to him as though he really is the president resurrected.

As the conversations continued, Simpkins turned to his appearances in Logan County, talking about events at Postville and other places throughout the county. He said that over the years the city of Lincoln and Logan County in general have become like a second home to him and his wife, and they are always delighted to come and visit.

[By NILA SMITH]

Simpkins Military HIstory Museum

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