Even in jeans and a Kentucky t-shirt, Jim Sayre attracts stares. Heads turn. Kids’ mouths fall open. Strangers grin and wave. When he drives by on the highway in his pickup truck, other drivers do double and even triple takes. Some folks ask for his autograph or snap photos.
It’s not really Jim they’re seeing—it’s the man he resembles, the part Jim plays when he dons his black frock coat, bow tie, and of course the towering black stovepipe hat. Jim proclaims himself “The Great Pretender” on his business cards and works full time as an Abraham Lincoln presenter. In costume, he’s the real deal, playing Honest Abe for schools, churches, parties, parades, conventions, and Civil War re-enactments. You name it, Jim’s done it as the nation’s 16th president.
This year should see Jim at his busiest as the country celebrates Lincoln’s bicentennial with special emphasis in Kentucky, the president’s birthplace. Though he tries not to book more than 60 or 70 appearances each year—“It gets too tiring with all the travel,” he explains—still, Abe’s in heavy demand, and he loves what he does.
According to Jim, being Abe Lincoln takes hard work and plenty of preparation. He personally owns upwards of 200 Lincoln books and he studies thoroughly before an appearance. “It takes a lot of research to prepare properly,” says Jim, who recites the Gettysburg Address by heart while sitting in a mall food court. With a Lincoln-like twinkle in his eyes, Jim easily relates a handful of Lincoln jokes and humorous stories. While Jim knows his subject well, he makes a point of reading the latest studies on Lincoln. That’s a big part of the job as Jim sees it, to debunk myths, squash rumors, and pass on to every generation the love and respect he feels for the Great Emancipator.
Though Jim says he always enjoyed American history, he never imagined he’d be where he is today. “I never thought people would ever want to hear me talk,” Jim says with a quick grin. It all began when he finished a stint in the Army and let his beard grow out in 1959. Some accused him of being “too lazy to shave,” but one day he shaved part of the beard and suddenly friends noticed his resemblance to Abe.
At one friend’s urging, Jim rented a $50 Lincoln costume, entered a look-alike contest, came in third, and took home a $75 prize. Feeling “pretty well pleased,” Jim figured that was that—until calls started pouring in. Thus began his Lincoln life and the requests have kept on coming.
In 1986, a contest in Iowa garnered him national acclaim when he took first place, which “propelled him into where he is today.”
The Lawrenceburg resident spent 46 years with a trucking company, being Lincoln part-time, until 1998 when his Abe appearances took center stage.
For Jim Sayre, his life as Lincoln abounds with rewards. He says, “Working with children is great and makes it all worthwhile.” His huge scrapbooks—at least 11 of them—containing photos, newspaper articles, thank you notes, and more attest to his success at re-enacting Abraham Lincoln.
Being Lincoln is a labor of love. He explains his goal as “to keep the image of Lincoln alive for future generations,” plus Jim wants children especially “to know the truth, not some myths many authors have written to make a few dollars.”
As Jim puts it, Abraham Lincoln was “the greatest president the nation has had,” and Jim is proud to play his part in honoring this fine man.
ASSOCIATION OF LINCOLN PRESENTERS
Jim Sayre is one of dozens of men and women across the United States who belong to the Association of Lincoln Presenters (ALP), an organization dedicated to keeping Lincoln alive and real for each new generation.
Members study Lincoln papers, write books, and appear in local, regional, and national events, even showing up in movies and TV shows.
Women members keep alive Lincoln’s wife, originally Mary Todd of Lexington, and join the pledge to “educate, entertain, and inspire.” Other members do presentations of presidents Washington and Roosevelt, as well.
Annual conventions attract national awareness as a bevy of Lincolns gather at sites associated with the 16th president.
To learn more about ALP, go to www.Lincolnpresenters.org.
HOW TO CONTACT JIM SAYRE
1495 Alton Station Road
Lawrenceburg, KY 40342