Horde of Lincolns celebrate Kansas’ anti-slavery roots in trip to Lecompton

By: - April 23, 2022 5:41 pm
Members of the Association of Lincoln Presenters visit the Lecompton Historical Society on Saturday as part of the organization's annual conference. (Lucie Krisman for Kansas Reflector)

Members of the Association of Lincoln Presenters visit the Lecompton Historical Society on Saturday as part of the organization’s annual conference. (Lucie Krisman for Kansas Reflector)

LECOMPTON — Abraham Lincoln(s) paid a visit to Lecompton’s Historical Society on Saturday — roughly 30 of them.

The visitors were members of the Association of Lincoln Presenters, a group of men and women across the United States who enjoy portraying Abraham or Mary Todd Lincoln.

“We are living historians, you might call us, or living history reenactors,” said Kevin Wood, a Michigan-based member of the ALP. “Our goal is really just to bring to life these very important characters from our history.”

The association’s visit to Lecompton served as part of its three-day annual conference in Kansas — the first one in three years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the conference mainly took place nearby in Leavenworth, its final day featured a day trip to Lecompton.

Saturday’s event featured presentations and tours of historic Civil War-era sites in Lecompton. This included a play centered around the Bleeding Kansas period, a civil war between pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates in Kansas in the 1850s — which the Lincolns participated in from the audience.

Murray Cox, ALP treasurer and conference organizer, said the significance of the visit and Saturday’s events were to educate people about the role that Kansas — and Abraham Lincoln — had in the Civil War.

“The Civil War started here essentially,” Cox said. “The part that Kansas played in not only leading into the Civil War but also how it affected Lincoln.”

For each conference, the ALP tries to visit somewhere strongly associated with the Lincoln family or with history. This led to the association’s choosing of Leavenworth for this year’s conference.

When Lincoln was “testing the political climate” for the upcoming presidential election in the late 1850s, he made a weeklong stop in Kansas. He gave several speeches condemning slavery throughout that trip, and his last one before leaving Kansas was at the Planters House Hotel in Leavenworth.

Lincoln’s visit to Kansas in 1859 included a handful of cities, and while there is no concrete evidence of it, one of those was rumored to be Lecompton. The city was also the draft site of the Lecompton Constitution, a proposed pro-slavery document that never went into effect but contributed to controversy leading up to the Civil War.

Aside from being the “birthplace of the Civil War”, some speculate that Lincoln would not have become the 16th president if not for the political split the document caused.

The ALP aims to educate the country about historical events like these. Some of the organization’s members portray Lincoln for the occasional school event or parade, while others are full-time presenters.

So how does one become a Lincoln presenter? Wood said in some cases, it comes down to physical appearance.

“At some point, somebody probably said to us, ‘You look like Abraham Lincoln,’ ” he said. “But in most cases, it’s for people who have an interest in preserving our history and helping people to remember it.”

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Lucie Krisman
Lucie Krisman

Lucie Krisman graduated from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas in the spring of 2021. She has reported on beats that include local government, business, and arts and culture. Before writing for the Pitch and the Lawrence Times, she previously worked as a City Hall reporter for the Eudora Times, an initiative out of the KU journalism school to provide community news to Eudora through student reporters. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she also remotely covered stories for the North Dakota Newspaper Association that were distributed to newspapers across the state. She has received awards from the Kansas Press Association for business, education and government reporting.