In this election year, some presidential candidates have questioned other candidates’ honesty, and some have told tall tales to increase their political standing in hopes of becoming the 45th president of the United States.
There was none of that at area schools in the last week, when a guest artist stood tall in his portrayal of America’s 16th and tallest president, Abraham Lincoln, a leader who was nicknamed “Honest Abe.”
The tall, slender man with the beard and stovepipe hat was actor Danny Russel, who toured schools as part of the Dubuque Arts Council’s Artists-In-Residence program.
Russel walked gymnasiums, detailing Lincoln’s life and accomplishments, from his log cabin birthplace in Kentucky to his ascent to the White House in Washington D.C.
He wore period clothing, save for the portable microphone he spoke through, and his presentation didn’t gloss over Lincoln’s many failures in business and life before he was elected president.
Russel’s delivery was humorous at times and emotional at others: Lincoln lost his mother at a young age, and later, a sister.
Many students laughed during different parts of Russel’s performance at St. Francis Xavier School in Dyersville. When Russel joked that Lincoln had planned to run away with his girlfriend at the age of 17, one student loudly called out “No.”
Students giggled as Russel spoke of Lincoln trying to cheer up his sister with gifts of a baby raccoon, turtle and bullfrog.
When it came to the Bible, his performance was more serious. He described the Bible as God’s greatest gift to mankind, besides Jesus. He also spoke of Lincoln’s temperance, inspired by his mother’s proclamation that alcohol was the “devil’s urine,” in a time of high alcohol consumption across America.
Russel also related Lincoln’s emotions on witnessing a slave auction in New Orleans. “Seeing that auction of human beings haunted me for the rest of my days,” he said. Of course, Lincoln went on to oversee the Emancipation Proclamation and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which banned slavery.
Russel has been portraying Lincoln for 15 years. “Lincoln is probably the best example of America,” Russel said. “He came from poverty and had less than 300 days of formal education. We’re still trying to figure out how he did his job magnificently well, with no training for it. He was the right person for the right time in history.”
Additional reporting by Sara Millhouse.