At schools throughout the Southeast, Dennis Boggs' passionate portrayal brings ol' Abe back to life - honest
Dennis Boggs, dressed as Abe Lincoln, talks with Harpeth Middle School Principal, Dana Finch in her office between his two presentations at the school.
You can learn a lot about Abraham Lincoln in an hour - especially if you have Dennis Boggs as your guide. That's because when Boggs talks about Lincoln, he virtually becomes the 16th President, managing to captivate audiences young and old with his historical first-person account of Lincoln's life and the complicated issues of his time. Boggs who looks remarkably like Honest Abe, begins his presentation with a soliloquy, talking of Lincoln's birth on Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin County, KY, and leading his audiences along through the death of his mother when he was 9 years old to his boyhood visit to New Orleans, where he first saw slaves in shackles being bought and sold like animals and made a resolve "to do something to stop slavery." Sporting his own very real beard and dressed in the long, black coat suit, formal black tie, black pants and top hat of Lincoln's day, Boggs provides details of Lincoln's marriage, his four sons, his lack of formal education, his voracious appetite for reading and learning and the events leading to his presidency. He includes details about Lincoln's boyhood dog, Honey, and at the same time launches into some passionate renditions of Lincoln's inaugural address and The Gettysburg Address. The program winds up with him talking about the day he was killed. A lively question-and-answer period usually follows. "Most assemblies are boring. The floor is hard and your feet go to sleep, and I don't always listen, but I really listed to this," said 12-year-old Jordan Harris after seeing Boggs perform last month at Harpeth middle School in Kingston Springs. "He included battles like Gettysburg. He went into good detail and (told us) how one (boy soldier) got to the wall and got shot 97 times and died." "And about the guy who stuck a Confederate flag in a Union cannon and it went off and he just disappeared," added 13-year-old Bobby Leyda. "He really took on the character. he put his whole heart into it, and people were hanging on every word. There was a lot of humor. People laughed," said Katy Miller, a 13-year-old eighth grader. "I see it as living history. I think people see things in three dimension, and this makes it easier for them to learn," Boggs says, "I am a presenter, not an impersonator." Interestingly, Boggs is one of more than 150 members of the Association of Lincoln Presenters. He says some look more like Lincoln than others. If you must know, his hair is colored to match the dark brownish-black of Lincoln's. "My hair is very gray. My wife has a formula (a Matrix combination of ash brown and warm dark brown). She is a professional hair stylist and makeup artist." In fact, she does such a good job on his hair and beard that even when he's not wearing his black suit and tie, people come up to him with the inevitable question: "Has anybody every told you that you like Abraham Lincoln?" "There is something about Lincoln. Once you have the hair and beard, you're going to be Abe 24/7. My wife and I never meet a stranger," he says with a laugh. There are a lot of similarities that make the transformation fairly simple. Boggs, 54, is roughly the same age of the Lincoln he portrays. (Lincoln died at age 56.) "I'm the same height (6 feet 4 inches) and weight (190 pounds to Lincoln's typical 185), and physically, we share some characteristics," he says, though he admits his hands and feet are much smaller. Boggs wears gray contact lenses to make his eyes look more like Lincoln's "grayish color." Some coincidental similarities bord on spooky. "I grew up in Lincoln County, went to Lincoln County Elementary School and I went to the Lincoln (movie) Theater every week. My wife's name is Molly and Lincoln also referred to his wife as Molly (although her name was Mary)," he says. Apparently, the foray into the land of Lincoln was meant to be for this former grocery produce manager and schoolbus driver. "I was introduced to Lincoln in the theater, community theater, in about 1990, when The Tennessee Players were doing Abraham Lincoln and the Songs That He Loved. I'd do the speech and then we'd have some period music," he says. That was followed in 1995 with a similar program with The Fisk Jubilee Singers at Fisk University. In 1997, a friend invited him to do a Lincoln presentation at her school. He was willing - and thrilled - to find that it could be his new calling. His wife, Molly Flatt-Boggs, said there is a clear differentiation between her husband and the Lincoln character he takes on. "He is always Dennis to me, but he constantly studies Lincoln and has such a passion for it. We both admire Lincoln very much, and I think we try to live by the man's principles. I think that Abraham Lincoln had made us better people," she says. Boggs says he counts the opportunity to represent Lincoln as a blessing. "I get so much more than I give these students. I never had an experience like this as an actor. It is so fulfilling, because you feed off the audience," he says. From those early performances, Boggs has built his "Meet Mr. Lincoln" business. Today he does 220-230 programs a year at roughly $250 a pop. Many are in the Nashville area, but he travels all over the southeast for performances for school groups and historical societies. "I try to get my program in front of as many educators and hope that they will see the value," he says. "My marketing is mostly to teachers' seminars." Boggs is always adding material to his program and collecting props, such as a 100-year-old pocket watch and fob. but he doesn't go overboard. "The day I start thinking I am Abraham Lincoln is the day I should stop doing this. I'm not Lincoln, and I would not want to be him. I'm just very fortunate to be able to do this." At the end of every school performance, Boggs offers encouragement to his audiences: "I represent the voice of the past. You are the voices of the future. My paramount reason for being here is not just to tell my story, but to tell you to stay in school. Read every book on every subject that you can; educate yourself and go out into the world and do some good for your fellow man."
DeSoto Times Today
Dead man tells good tales
Lincoln Presenter imparts history, encourages teens
to read, read, read .....
by Christopher Sheffield
“Absolutely nothing will replace sitting down with a book in your lap.” ---Dennis Boggs aka Abraham Lincoln
Dennis Boggs portrays Abraham Lincoln during a performance for eighth grade students at Hernando Middle School
He grew up poor. Had no formal education. Struggled with bouts of depression and has affectionately called his wife "Molly." His roughly 190 pounds is stretched across his lanky 6-foot, 4-inch frame. Who could that be? Abraham Lincoln or possibly Dennis Boggs? Actually it could be both. Known in the trade as a Lincoln Presenter, Boggs not only has some amazing personal similarities to Lincoln but bears such an amazing likeness that those who spend any amount of time staring into his face would swear they were in the presence of the nation's 16th President. On Thursday Boggs brought his show, "Meet Mr. Lincoln" to Hernando Middle School where, during four performances to some 300 eighth graders, he summed up his life story in 45 minutes, Lincoln's not Boggs'. It's easy to get the two confused though. With the jet black, wavy hair, bushy beard with no mustache, black coat, vest and trousers and tie and silver pocket watch, Boggs slides in and out of character, back and forth between centuries, effortlessly. His grasp of Lincoln historical minutia - like the fact that the night he was shot by John Wilkes Booth in 1865, Lincoln only had a Confederate $5 in his wallet (Boggs carries a replica) - and of lesser known tales, helps Boggs blend Lincoln's stories and experiences into almost any situation. He's been performing as Lincoln since 1997 and fulltime since 2000. He did 290 performances in 2004. His last, and only other show in Mississippi was at the Hattiesburg Library in 2003. He found his way back thanks to Hernando Middle School history teacher Jared Brown who had seen Boggs' show in 2001 while a student at Freed-Hardeman University near Jackson, Tennessee. He mentioned the idea of bringing Boggs to Hernando to librarian Pam Carpenter who eventually found him. Once here, Boggs took the eighth graders, a group who can tend to be a skeptical bunch, one teacher observed, through a rapid history of lincoln's life, starting with his birth February 12, 1809, in Kentucky, and culminating with his assassination by Booth April 14, 1865 at Ford's Theater in Washington. In between are woven the experiences of a 19th century frontier American life, including the death of his mother to milk sickness, his lack of formal education but his appetite for reading, his first brush with slavery, details of his marriage to Mary Todd, the joy and sadness of being a parent (the Lincolns lost two of their four sons) and other major events leading to his presidency. Although he was in Hernando to talk about the past, Boggs as Lincoln said he wanted the students to know they are the future. "I represent the past," he said. "You are the voices of tomorrow. It is into your hands that I leave the future." To do that, Lincoln implored the students to "read, read, read." Although modern technology like computers and the internet, when used appropriately are great tools, but they will never supplant the power of a good book. "Absolutely nothing will replace sitting down with a book in your lap," he said. Boggs passionately asked the teens to never, ever give up on believing in the power of education and knowledge. Selecting various students from the crowd, Boggs chose a student who was an african american girl to say that she could certainly one day be the President of the United States. He told the students that in their lifetime they will likely see a black president and a female president. "There's not one reason why it can't be you," he said. Boggs message of hope is powerful. He says he reads everyday and his thirst for knowledge is only exceeded by his love of portraying Mr. Lincoln. "I never, ever meet a stranger," he said. "I love doing this. I believe in what I'm doing."
'Abraham Lincoln' brings message to students at namesake school
Lincoln Presenter, Dennis Boggs delivers a presentation to students at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School
KINGSPORT -- The tall, bearded man in the stovepipe hat told Abraham Lincoln Elementary School students that they are "the voices of tomorrow" and he is just "a voice from the past." Abraham Lincoln told of his struggles and accomplishments as the nation's 16th President, a position he held until felled by an assassin's gunshot on Good Friday, 1865. Yes. Abe Lincoln dropped by the school that bears his name for a chat with the students. No, it wasn't a ghost. It was nationally known Lincoln Presenter, Dennis Boggs. He spent the entire school day in character. "It is into your young and capable hands that I leave the future of this great world," Lincoln said. "The real reason I came here this morning is to ask you... to beg you to stay in school. To read everything you can read. To educate yourselves with the help of your teachers and your parents, and become everything that you can be." His place in history is marked by his stewardship of the country through the turbulence of the Civil War, Lincoln said. "If you'll give me just a few more moments I need desperately to talk with you about a different set of wars -- the great many wars you are having to fight each and every day. The wars against hunger, poverty and racism. The wars against crime drugs and violence. The wars against diseases. My war, the Civil War, was fought and won with guns, bullets and blood. But your wars can only be won with knowledge -- the knowledge that even now may be locked deep within one of your young minds. An to unlock that knowledge you need a key, and that key is education." Lincoln then selected various students from the audience, "This young man could someday have the answer for world hunger, poverty and racism. This young lady could someday find a way to win the terrible wars that you are having to fight against crime, drugs and violence. This young man could someday find a cure for such hated diseases as cancer, AIDS, and diabetes just to name a few. And this young lady right here... could someday be the President of these United States." by --- J.H. Osborne