Lincoln Presenters 'bring history to life' at Dayton conference, around world

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Apr. 27—As a bearded John Voehl stood wearing a black top hat and suit Saturday, both reminiscent of the 19th century, he blended seamlessly with Dayton's 177-year-old Greek Revival-style courthouse towering behind him.

It was evocative of a scene from 165 years earlier, when Abraham Lincoln, similarly dressed, gave a speech in front of what is now referred to as the "Old Courthouse," at 7 N. Main St., on Sept. 17, 1859.

Lincoln, who is said to have spoken that day while standing on a box on the curb facing the front of the courthouse, would go on to be elected president just one year after his visit to Dayton.

Voehl, a Lincoln presenter and historian from Colorado, was in Dayton on Saturday as part of the annual Association of Lincoln Presenters (ALP) conference.

Voehl was one of a group of men dressed as the former president, along with others garbed in 19th-century attire, as the conference-goers traveled around Montgomery County, making stops at the Dayton VA Medical Center campus, the Dayton Woman's Club, and Courthouse Square, where an 11-foot-tall statue of Lincoln presides over the Plaza.

"We get together at this annual conference to network with one another, to hear speakers, to further our knowledge of Lincoln, and to visit wonderful places like this with the remembrance statue," Voehl said.

Teena Baldrige, events coordinator for ALP and president of the Lincoln Society of Dayton, led the planning of this weekend's events.

Baldrige said the ALP's annual conference is a way to teach others about the life and legacy of Lincoln, even beyond what made it into history books.

"What we're doing as presenters is bringing history alive, telling people things they may not know, and giving them a bit of a history lesson," she said.

As a retiree, Voehl has made it his "full time passion" to dress as Lincoln and share the history of his life at various appearances and presentations, typically participating in about 100 events per year.

"I got started in 1996 on a whim as a coworker of mine needed someone to dress up as Lincoln for a skit at his cub scout camp; it just clicked and I liked doing it," Voehl said Saturday, adding that it helped that he naturally resembles the former president.

"I discovered that when I trim my beard 'Lincoln style,' I look very much like him, and I realized the charisma that the character of Lincoln has with people," he said. "I started reading and discovered the near-flawless character and virtues that are illustrated by his life. I've been intoxicated ever since, presenting to anyone and everyone that I get the opportunity to."

Voehl said he's continuously inspired by the qualities of Lincoln as both a person and a politician.

"If we all had a little bit more Lincoln in us, the world would be a much better place," he said.