Abraham Lincoln presenter enlightens Craig residents
February 18, 2014
John Voehl often is told he looks like someone who died a long time ago.
But he doesn't let that confusion prevent him from keeping the memory of his historical doppelganger very much alive.
Voehl is an Abraham Lincoln re-enactor who recently visited Craig for multiple performances in the guise of the 16th president of the United States. His presentations were sponsored by Colorado Northwestern Community College's Student Government and Student Activities Board.
David Johnson, a CNCC history instructor, was one of the organizers of Voehl's local appearance.
"It's really been a positive thing," Johnson said. "Anything we can do to make the past come alive for people is going to be brilliant."
On Monday at the Moffat County High School auditorium, Voehl and his wife, Pamela, performed the original stage show "Lincoln's Happiest Day," a conversation between Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln shortly before they attend Ford's Theatre. A presentation about Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on Tuesday afternoon at the CNCC campus was followed by a broader educational talk for all ages at the Boys & Girls Club of Craig.
Honest Abe spoke about the parts of his youth that affected him into adulthood, such as seeing slavery firsthand and his lack of formal schooling that helped fuel his thirst for knowledge.
Sunset Elementary School fifth-grader Christopher Maneotis said he already was familiar with some Lincoln lore, from his log cabin upbringing to his eventual assassination by John Wilkes Booth.
"My aunt bought me a bunch of books on the presidents, so I've done a lot of reading on them," he said.
Christopher’s classmate, Logan Montgomery, said he found the information, much of which was new to him, very interesting.
"It was cool to learn about it," he said.
Voehl also told some riddles and anecdotes, including the well-known story of 11-year-old Grace Bedell, whose letter convinced Lincoln during his 1860 presidential campaign to grow a beard to better frame his face.
And, yes, Voehl's beard is real.
Although not a perfect likeness for the man whose face graces pennies and the $5 bill, Voehl's tall, lanky frame draped in 19th-century clothing and topped with a stovepipe hat nonetheless makes one think of the Great Emancipator when you hear him speak with authority about the life of Lincoln.
It's something he started as part of a skit for a friend's Cub Scout troop nearly 20 years ago, taking after Lincoln as he was portrayed in "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," though Voehl admits the real Lincoln probably never once said, "Party on, dudes!"
Voehl, a lifetime member of the Association of Lincoln Presenters and a charter member of the Victorian Society of Colorado, said he was motivated to start studying Lincoln's full history and develop his own presentations, which he began offering in 1997.
He has done nearly 800 shows, seminars, speeches and presentations across 26 states. While in Northwest Colorado, Voehl also visited Meeker on Tuesday evening and will be at Meeker Elementary School and Barone Middle School on Wednesday.
Before coming to Craig, Voehl was in character at the state legislature as part of Presidents Day. A full description of the variety of subjects he talks about is available at AbeLincolnAlive.com.
His goal is to attune each presentation to the age group at hand.
"A lot of the senior citizens really like it," he said. "With kids, some of the jokes and things I talk about go over their heads."
Although not all children fully comprehend the significance Lincoln had for their country, many still are wowed by Voehl, treating him as if he were a rock star, including those in attendance at the Boys & Girls Club.
Voehl said the stretch of time between 2011 and 2015, the sesquicentennials of the events of the Civil War, as well as elements of popular culture such as Steven Spielberg's 2012 biopic of Lincoln, have made the president more popular than ever.
"It's a privilege I have to portray, study and present one of our greatest presidents, maybe the greatest, and to try to communicate the values that characterized his life that are valuable for a person of any age to emulate," he said.
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.