If you lived in the Midwest or our nation's capital during the mid-1800s and saw a tall, bearded gentleman dressed in black and wearing a stove pipe hat, it was probably Abraham Lincoln.
But today in Central California, if you see a tall, bearded gentleman dressed in black and wearing a stove pipe hat, it just might be Wayne Scott.
He is a retired police officer and teacher. In his portrayal of America's 16th president, he has traveled the country, speaking and re-enacting, for close to 15 years.
This past January he was interviewed in Fresno for a televised production of Veterans Forum (as seen on YouTube). Last month he greeted folks at a Visalia community event. This summer he's planning to attend Sacramento's Juneteenth Freedom Celebration, commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation. And next week he'll visit the battlefield at the Las Mariposas Civil War Re-enactment in Mariposa County.
It all started with a phone call from his daughter in Santa Cruz.
"Dad, you've got to come see this ..."
She referred to the annual Civil War event at Roaring Camp, held annually during Memorial Day weekend.
Through the course of the conversation Scott's daughter persuaded him to "become" Abraham Lincoln. He had the height for it, so he let his beard grow, purchased the proper attire, and showed up at Roaring Camp.
His grandson joined the re-enactors as a powder monkey. He carries bags of gunpowder to the soldiers firing the cannons.
For sheer enjoyment, Scott keeps it up.
As a law enforcement officer, "People were not happy to see me," he said. "My presence meant something negative in their lives."
But as a most beloved president, Scott gets smiles and hugs. He is photographed with dozens, and sometimes hundreds of visitors during a single weekend.
A few years after he started re-enacting, Scott visited Illinois and Ohio, to find information on his great-grandfather.
"He was a sergeant in the Union Army," he said.
While at the Adams County (Ohio) Historical Society he discovered two copies of an old textbook, containing a diagram of his own family tree. Beginning with a relative who came to America from England, the tree branched into three lines, representing the man's three sons.
"The middle branch led to Abraham Lincoln," Scott says, "and the left branch included my grandmother."
He was fortunate enough to purchase one of the copies.
As a member of the National Lincoln Presenters Society, he attends meetings with approximately 120 other Lincoln re-enactors.
He laughs as he says, "It looks like a convention of penguins."
As Lincoln, Scott has a military aide, a brigadier general and three Pinkerton agents who meet him at various events. He's starting to fill his Cabinet as well.
Scott owns two stovepipe hats, one 6 inches tall and the other, 9 inches. He often wears a tie imprinted with Lincoln's face and script from the Gettysburg Address.
His photo albums are full, as are his library shelves. A lot of time and money have been invested researching Lincoln and the history of the Civil War.
"One in five families of the North and the South were touched by the war (with fatalities)," Scott explains.
Civil War re-enactments bring history into our modern times, for the purpose of educating the public. Watching soldiers fall on the battlefield, hearing blasts from cannons and guns, smelling the gunpowder, peering across a field through smoky haze, and handling tools and artifacts from a previous century all provide a learning experience unlike anything in a classroom. Not to glorify war, but to show how the war affected Americans on a personal level.
When he isn't attending state dinners and making whistle-stops, Scott divides his time between a home in Fresno and his ranch on the Chowchilla River.
"After being a re-enactor for this many years, events are like a big family reunion," he said.
This is a man who has lived a full life and continues to be gratified in the giving of himself to benefit others.
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at email@example.com.