PENFIELD, Ill. — Abraham Lincoln’s legacy can be found in all corners of Illinois, from license plates and a city’s name to schools and historic sites.
Much has been written and many movies made about the 16th president who rose from the humble beginnings of a log cabin on Sinking Springs Farm in rural Kentucky to being one of the nation’s greatest presidents.
Lincoln portrayer Randy Duncan understands the importance of this historic man, doesn’t take his role lightly and once again will respectfully bring the Great Emancipator to life at the annual Historic Farm Days July 11-14, hosted by the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club.
Duncan of Carlinville, has an uncanny resemblance to the president, and when he’s in character with suit and signature stovepipe hat, he speaks to visitors from Lincoln’s perspective, when there were no cellphones, cars and horsepower was in a literal sense.
He recently visited with AgriNews as Mr. Duncan, not Mr. Lincoln.
How long have you been portraying President Lincoln and how did you get into it?
I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I got into this the same way a lot of people get into a lot of things. Being Abraham Lincoln is not something that someone makes a conscious decision to be as a career choice, except for Abraham Lincoln himself, of course.
The general way it would go is that somebody asks you to do something one time like a play or an appearance at an event and then it turns out to work out well and you say, “hey, this is something that I should investigate a little more closely.”
When you’re in his character you also speak in terms of his present day, not this present day. So, it requires some acting skills, as well. Is that something you’ve been into for a while?
I’ve also done some other acting, obviously not well for anybody to know me or anything else, but acting is also something I’ve taken part in.
What are some of the most enjoyable parts about doing this?
One of the most enjoyable parts is bringing the character that people know a little bit about to life in front of them and rounding it out as a character. Most people know that Lincoln was born in a log cabin, he was shot in a theatre, he saved the union and he freed the slaves.
But a lot of people don’t know things like he had a great sense of humor, that he liked cats and that he had gotten out of politics until the Kansas-Nebraska Act brought him back into it. If it wasn’t for that, he probably would have been a good lawyer for the rest of his life.
A lot of people say he was our funniest president by far, and he used his sense of humor as one of the tools to in his lawyer work and as president.
Did you do a lot of research on Lincoln’s life?
Yes, and there’s always more to know. There are more books written about Abraham Lincoln than anybody in history, except Jesus. There are new books, good books, coming out all of the time, so it’s a subject that takes some keeping up on.
About how many appearances do you make throughout the year?
I don’t know how many. I’ve never counted them and besides I don’t want to know because people ask me how many I do. It’s not a competition, and it’s not a showing off sort of thing either.
There are other guys who do Abraham Lincoln, too, and there are maybe guys who do more than I do and I don’t want to know if I do more than other people. It’s not that kind of a job.
What is your full-time career?
I have been the plant manager of a recycling center. I am now in the process of getting out of that to do this fulltime or as close to fulltime as I can get anyway.
Were you born and raised in Illinois?
Yes, I was, unlike Abraham Lincoln, of course. Everybody likes Abraham Lincoln and so they’ll claim him, but if the government had not won the Civil War maybe things would have been a little different.