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State’s top Abe Lincoln re-enactor is grateful for journey

Updated: Nov 15, 2022

By Howard Wright — Special to Today Magazine

• Canton resident Howard Wright has portrayed Abraham Lincoln via his Simply Lincoln initiative since 2005

Portraying Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, opened up the world of the re-enactor to me. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting many people through the years, and a number of them have become good friends.

I’m deeply impressed with the re-enactor, who must study in minute detail all aspects of a person in order to accurately embody him or her. Whether it’s learning how to accurately march, fire a musket, cook over a camp stove, or master the many chores of domestic life, I tip my hat to all of them because of the countless hours they spend researching their roles and acquiring the clothing, tools or other items needed to pull it all off.

Besides my twin lodestars, John and Diane Callahan — whose help, guidance and friendship shaped my experiences, and for that I am so grateful — I value the friendship and camaraderie of the two terrific longtime chairs of the Connecticut Civil War Round Table, Mary Lou and Blair Pavlik, and for the good cheer and excellent re-enacting skills of Dane and Carol Deleppo and Marty and Kathy Schmidt. They are all good souls.

I’ve met extraordinary people during my time as Lincoln. I’m grateful to state Sen. Kevin Witkos — then a state representative for Canton and most of Avon, aka District 17 — for arranging for me to speak at the State Capitol in front of the General Assembly. He recommended that I serve as co-chair of the Connecticut Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission (2008-10).

The other co-chair was professor Michael Burlingame, an undisputed top-tier Lincoln scholar. His two-volume biography — “Abraham Lincoln: A Life” — earned him the 2009 Lincoln Prize. We worked well together and have become friends.

I take my cues from Michael’s research and judgments of Lincoln, his life and his times. I’m totally impressed with his detailed research, and it’s no wonder that Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin calls Michael a “Lincoln library unto himself.”

Photo by Jeff Schlichter • Cameo Photo Video, Canton

It was such an honor for me when Michael and I — he as the scholar and I as Lincoln — teamed up and retraced Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 speaking tour through five Connecticut cities: Hartford, Meriden, New Haven, Norwich and Bridgeport.

Timing is everything, and fresh off the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth was the sesquicentennial of the Civil War (2011-15). During this time I met and befriended the two co-chairs of the commission, Matthew Warshauer of Central Connecticut State University and Marc Bassos, who oversaw all the re-enactments during. These two men are smart, socially adept and inquisitive, exuding joy in everything they do.

Because of their efforts, Connecticut was the most active of the northern states in commemorating the issues associated with the Civil War, and I was requested exclusively whenever they needed a Lincoln presenter — and I was called often!

I learned so much about Lincoln during this time, and I was glad that I witnessed so many men and women working together in order to educate the public about the issues related to the Civil War.

The Connecticut public should be proud and grateful for the work the commission did during the commemoration. And I was so glad that Matt and Marc and others wanted to put the slavery issue front and center — something that was unbelievably minimized if not deliberately omitted during the Civil War centennial commemorations of the early 1960s.

I’ve made many friends during the years as a Lincoln presenter.

It’s been my privilege to wear the stove-pipe hat and reveal Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable character through his words and deeds — Howard Wright

No one cheers me on more than Terri and Lee Wilson of Avon, though. I first met Terri, the president of the Avon Historical Society, when she arranged for me to perform at the Avon Senior Center in 2010.

Over the years, my wife Betsy and I have enjoyed their friendship, built on trust and mutual support. Terri is sure one bundle of ideas and energy, and she’s been making all sorts of informative and educational things happen in the Farmington Valley for years. Plus, she has an excellent sense of humor and we laugh a lot.

I’ll close with a favorite Lincoln quote. I’ve used this quote in many of my performances since 2012, and it has taken on a special political significance nowadays — judging from the audience’s reaction when I recite it — and here it is: “If you want to test the character of a man, give him power.”

How people use power reflects their character, and it’s been my privilege to wear the stove-pipe hat and reveal Abraham Lincoln’s remarkable character through his words and deeds. +

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Howard Wright contact info

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Howard Wright has been a science teacher since 1980 at Renbrook School, where he met his wife Betsy, a Simsbury native — they have lived in Canton since 1986


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