Lincoln dialogues

Montrose resident J.P. Wammack, who was dressed as Abraham Lincoln, played the past president’s favorite song, “Oh Susanna,” on a harmonica in the Hoover High School library Friday as history students clapped and sang along.

Wammack, a Lincoln impersonator, told the high school students that the president played the harmonica during a six-week trip on the Mississippi River to New Orleans, where Lincoln and a friend had planned to sell food to make money.

“We sold the goods at a profit,” he said in character.

Wammack went to the school to talk to the students about the life of Lincoln, whose birth date is Thursday.

He tested the students’ knowledge by asking them questions about Lincoln and other past presidents.

“Who was the tallest president?” Wammack asked the students, who responded, “You are.”

After he asked a series of questions, Wammack, who remained in character, began talking about Lincoln’s life.

Lincoln owned only three books, which were the Bible, a biography on George Washington and Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe,” Wammack said.

“I read them over and over again,” he said while impersonating Lincoln.

Wammack described Lincoln’s childhood as challenging.

At 8 years old, Lincoln chopped trees with an ax and earned money for his father, which Wammack said Lincoln didn’t think was fair.

Wammack’s impersonation of Lincoln taught student Yesenia Guerra, 16, about the past president’s childhood.

“It was really interesting,” she said. “The way he expressed what he did in the past made it seem like he was just here visiting.”

Wammack’s performance did not seem like an impersonation, student Amy Drummond said.

Amy, 17, was drawn to Wammack interpretation of Lincoln.

“I like the end when he talked about his death, because I didn’t know that he was shot six feet away, and I did get emotional,” she said.

Teacher Dan Kimber, who is a columnist for the News-Press, invited Wammack to talk to his Advanced Placement history students because he said Wammack gave a realistic impersonation of Lincoln and was knowledgeable about the past president’s life.

Wammack’s father used to impersonate Lincoln and went to local schools and businesses to talk about the president’s life

But his father had a stroke and could no longer play the part.

Wammack’s father had promised to perform during a ceremony before he had his stroke and didn’t want to break his commitment, so he asked his son to step in his shoes for the day.

Wammack was reluctant at first, but he said he decided to do the Lincoln impersonation for his father.

He got hooked and has been imitating Lincoln ever since, Wammack said.

The 53-year-old often volunteers to mimic Lincoln for schoolchildren.

“It’s a service,” he said.

Wammack, a Hoover High graduate, impersonates Lincoln in his spare time and is employed as a life insurance salesman.

He often feels like a movie star when he is dressed as Lincoln.

“I am like a celebrity because the kids want to take a picture with Lincoln,” Wammack said.


 VERONICA ROCHA covers public safety and the courts. She may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at veronica.rocha@latimes.com.

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