Peter Lindemann says he’ll be able to keep things straight: Saturday morning he’s Abraham Lincoln and Saturday night he’s Atticus Finch.
For Lindemann, a Colonie native and 1980 graduate of Cornell University, playing two such iconic figures in the American consciousness is only a little bit daunting. Mostly, it’s an awful lot of fun.
“I was thinking about Atticus the other day, and I thought, ‘Maybe I can play him in a Lincolnesque kind of way,” said Lindemann, who will portray our nation’s 16th president Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction as part of Schenectady County’s “Civil War Living History Day.” “They were both well-spoken country guys — two men you felt you could trust, and what you saw was what you got.”
Twice the fun
When he’s done reciting the Gettysburg Address and a few of Lincoln’s other notable speeches on Saturday, Lindemann will head to the Golding Middle School Theater in Cobleskill for a performance of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Harper Lee’s masterpiece about racism in the Deep South in the first half of the 20th Century. Lindemann, who has been a re-enactor longer than he’s been an actor, plays Atticus Finch, an attorney appointed by the local court to defend a black man accused of rape.
Civil War Living History Day
WHERE: Mabee Farm, Rotterdam Junction
WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 374-0263 or www.schenectadyhistory.net/
“When the opportunity to do some theater came along about three years ago, I thought it might be a fun thing to try, and I thought it might help out in my history presentations,” said Lindemann, who along with impersonating Lincoln also portrays Civil War soldier James Tanner from Richmondville. “I didn’t know too much about the theater, but doing one helps the other, and I really do enjoy doing both of them. It’s a lot of fun.”
Lindemann’s interest in Lincoln began at an early age.
“I was always fascinated by him as a kid, and what I liked most about him was his speeches,” said Lindemann, who works in the resources department for the state Assembly in Albany and lives in Howes Cave. “I loved the way he wrote, and he did it keeping in mind that it would be spoken. He would read things aloud to himself and use a lot of alliteration because he knew that sounded better. He was very precise with the language he used, and he had this wonderful ability to express his feelings about what was going on during his day.
Civil War Living History Day
Sponsored by the Schenectady County Public Library and the Schenectady County Historical Society. There will be events going on all day at the Mabee Farm. Here is a list of the featured performers in the Mabee Farm’s Dutch Barn.
10 a.m.: Abraham Lincoln impersonator Peter Lindemann and Uncle Billy’s Balladeers.
11 a.m.: 77th New York Regimental Balladeers, “Answering Lincoln’s Call: Songs & Images of the Civil War.”
12:15 p.m.: Regimental Sergeant Major David Morrison of the 79th New York Militia Volunteers, Highlander Division, portrayed by David Getty.
2 p.m.: Civil War nurse, abolitionist, teacher and writer Mary Livermore, portrayed by Maxine Getty.
3 p.m.: “Life of a Civil War Soldier: Private George of the 134th New York,” portrayed by Matt George.
“I went to Cornell to get an English degree, and I guess part of the reason was my appreciation of Lincoln,” continued Lindemann. “I just loved the way he wrote. His speeches were really special.”
Lindemann says he doesn’t consider himself a Lincoln expert, but according to Carle Kopecky, executive director at the Schoharie Stone Fort, it’s hard to tell.
“He not only delivers his speeches very well, but he’s got this great talent of tossing in some jokes and quips of Lincoln’s when he’s just conversing with our visitors,” said Kopecky. “It makes you wonder because you start feeling as if you’re talking to Lincoln. Peter really does an excellent job.”
A soldier and a president
Lindemann’s venture into Lincoln impersonating began just a few years after he started doing Tanner, a former soldier in the 87th New York Regiment who lost both of his legs during the Civil War and wound up working in the Ordinance Bureau and transcribed eyewitness reports of Lincoln’s assassination.
“About two years ago a friend of mine said, ‘You know, you’d make a good Lincoln,’” said Lindemann. “I’m tall, about 6-foot-3, an inch shorter than Lincoln, and I can memorize things pretty well. Sometimes it’s tough doing a Q and A after your presentation because people do ask tough questions and sometimes you don’t know the answers. But I’ve read a lot about him and I’m learning more.”
Lindemann says his Lincoln act usually takes about an hour and is accompanied by a small group of musicians called “Uncle Billy’s Balladeers,” who perform period pieces from the Civil War era.
“Sometimes it’s only two or three guys, and sometimes it’s five or six, but they’ll be with me at the Mabee Farm,” said Lindemann. “They play some music, and then we also have a person who impersonates Thurlow Weed, a newspaper editor from Lincoln’s time, and he serves as host and introduces Lincoln. It’s not just me getting up there and doing speeches. We play music and we encourage people to sing along.”
Preparing for court
Lindemann feels he has a pretty good handle on his Lincoln portrayal, enough so that he’s spent more time this week worrying about Atticus than Abraham.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
WHERE: Golding Middle School Theater in Cobleskilln
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $8 – 5
MORE INFO: www.theaterproject.org
“This is the biggest challenge I’ve had in my three years acting,” said Lindemann, who played Dr. Sanderson in “Harvey” last year for The Theater Project, a community theater group based in Cobleskill. “I’ve had a few other parts but nothing like this. Atticus is quite a role and I’m no Gregory Peck.”
He is, however, a very good Atticus according to Julia Walter, who’s directing the production for The Theater Project.
“He had been in a couple of our plays back-to-back, so I was a little concerned about asking him to do Atticus,” said Walter. “But he is just so perfect as Atticus, and I was very happy when he said yes. I’ve never seen him portray Lincoln, but I can see that he would be very good at it, and I can guess that his Lincoln would be a bit similar to his Atticus. He’s tall, he’s lean, and he’s calm.”
Peck’s portrayal of Atticus won him an Oscar and earned his character the No. 1 ranking among movie heroes as listed by the American Film Institute. As for Lincoln, he is considered by many to be the most revered figure in American history.
“Lincoln had this calm about him, and it’s also very Atticus,” said Walter. “That’s what Peter has, and he has it in spades.”
Lindemann’s favorite book on Lincoln is Garry Wills’ “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” and he says he tries to read at least one or two new books about Lincoln every year. Dressing the part was also a task that required some work on Lindemann’s part.
A Sense of what he was like
“I’m a Mason, and when one of the older guys in our lodge passed away he had this really nice long black coat that they asked me about,” said Lindemann. “I thought, ‘that looks like a Lincoln coat.’ I then bought a Lincoln hat at one of those costume places and then some white gloves from our lodge. I had some regular black pants, and I have a natural beard that I darken a bit for Lincoln. Some impersonators get right down to the wart [on his right cheek], but I don’t go that far. My idea is to try to give people a sense of what he was like; a sense of what it was like to be around him.”
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Life and Arts