When Don Coons portrays Mark Twain, he plays things pretty close to the vest.
“I don’t attribute anything to him that wasn’t his, so I’m a purist and stick pretty much to the facts,” said Coons, a Cobleskill native who will portray the legendary author at Friday’s Decoration Day service at the Old Stone Fort in Schoharie.
“Mark Twain said, ‘get your facts first, and then distort them any way you wish.’ Well, I won’t do that, but I might improvise a little bit.”
The Decoration Day program will run from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, and included in the festivities will be a conversation between Twain and our country’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, played by Pete Lindemann of Howes Cave.
Twain and Lincoln never met, but in Schoharie County and the western regions of Schenectady County, Coons and Lindemann have been making appearances together for a while, including last Tuesday night at the Esperance Historical Society.
“They never met face-to-face in real life, but every time you see a Lincoln impersonator it’s always about the Civil War,” said Coons. “Few people realize what a great storyteller he was and the humor he used. He was a lot like Twain in that respect.”
Decoration Day Service
WHERE: Old Stone Fort, 145 Fort Road, Schoharie
WHEN: 5-8 p.m. Friday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 295-7192, www.theoldstonefort.org
Coons, who is 78, said he grew up reading books by numerous authors, including Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens.
“My mother was one who insisted that we read something every day,” he said. “We played a card game called “Authors,” and that was our winter entertainment every day. My mother was a devout Christian and cards were an abomination to her, but she didn’t mind us playing ‘Authors.’ ”
Coons regards “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer” as Twain’s best work.
“I can’t say that I read everything he ever wrote, but I’ve read all of his major works,” he said. “And Lincoln was also very literary. If he hadn’t been president he might have written humorous stories that rivaled Twain’s.”
Coons said his ancestors were in Schoharie County as far back as the 17th century. While he has been a lifelong resident of the area, he worked in heavy industrial construction much of his life and traveled throughout the country, often in the South.
“I feel like I learned the southern rationale on life, especially in the Alleghenies,” he said. “I love that part of the country, particularly the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I feel like those people feel pretty much the same way we do about things up here in the Schoharie County.”
Coons writes all of his own material for his presentations, and much of what he says are actual quotations from Twain.
“I’ve been called Mark Twain even before I was playing Mark Twain,” he said, referring to his resemblance to the writer. “I don’t know if it’s the appearance, maybe the attitude, too, but people kept on telling me, ‘why don’t you do Twain?’ I’m not a professional actor by any means, and while it was a challenge it’s been a whole lot of fun.”
Lindemann, a Colonie native and Howes Cave resident, has been portraying Lincoln for about five years. Unlike Coons, he does have an acting resume, having portrayed Atticus Finch in the Theater Project of Schoharie production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 2011.
Decoration Day was the original name for Memorial Day, which was celebrated on May 30 each year. It was created soon after the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War by Union veterans association known as the Grand Army of the Republic.
This year, the Old Stone Fort, home to the Schoharie County Historical Society, will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of Colonel Simon Hosack Mix, who was mortally wounded leading his 3rd Volunteer Calvary Regiment in a dismounted charge at Petersburg in 1864.
Mix’s body was never recovered, but his family did erect a monument in his name in the Old Stone Fort cemetery.
A uniform that belonged to Mix and some of his personal effects are on exhibit in the fort’s museum. The Corporal James Tanner Camp #134 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War will re-dedicate the monument with an adaptation of a Grand Army of the Republic ceremony from the early 20th century.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org