GETTYSBURG (AP) — The man who will play Abraham Lincoln and present his Gettysburg Address at its 150th anniversary Tuesday stands alone among the Lincoln impersonators who are familiar sights at parades and other events.
For more than three decades, Jim Getty has annually donned a stovepipe hat and brought the famous speech to life near where Lincoln stood when he delivered it on Nov. 19, 1863.
“I try to create a feeling with audiences that you really know the man by the research I’ve done,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I am constantly amazed by how much he delved into in his life — from riding the circuit as a lawyer to his magnificent life in Washington.”
Getty had been teaching music in Sandusky, Ohio, in 1971 when someone pointed out that he looked like Lincoln, so he grew a beard and began moonlighting in character as the 16th president before Rotary clubs.
Channeling Lincoln became a full-time job in 1977, when Getty moved his family to a house in Gettysburg not far from Soldiers’ National Cemetery, where Lincoln gave his speech.
Getty tailors his remarks to his audiences when he presents Lincoln in public appearances.
For example, he cites Lincoln’s wartime strategy for selecting generals when speaking before military groups, while explaining to civic and corporate groups how he assembled his cabinet.
“Lincoln offers leadership lessons no matter who you are,” he said.
Getty, who declines to give his age, has played Lincoln for presidents, schoolchildren, civic groups and Hollywood cameras.
He says he has given the speech more times than he can count and admits occasionally blowing his lines.
“One time on Memorial Day in front of 2,000 people I drew a blank and forgot a few sentences,” he said. “I felt terrible, but I joked later that it was the shortest Gettysburg Address.”
About 9,000 people are expected to attend Tuesday’s sesquicentennial at Gettysburg National Military Park, which includes the cemetery and the battlefield where one of the bloodiest Civil War battles was fought.
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson are the scheduled keynote speakers.
IMAGE: This 1905 artist's rendering from the Sherwood Lithograph Co. via the Library of Congress depicts President Abraham Lincoln speaking at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery on Nov. 19, 1863. The Gettysburg Address is unusual among great American speeches, in part because the occasion did not call for a great American speech. Lincoln was not giving an inaugural address, a commencement speech or remarks in the immediate aftermath of a shocking national tragedy. "No one was looking for him to make history," says the Pulitzer Prize winning Civil War historian James McPherson. (AP Photo/Sherwood Lithograph Co. via the Library of Congress)