Never underestimate the value of a good actor who can bring history to life. Springfield, Illinois, is fortunate to have Fritz Klein, who has been playing Abraham Lincoln almost all his adult life in IL and on national stages. As a historian and a theater buff, I so enjoyed chatting with him on a recent visit to Springfield, both in his summer role as the city’s roving “Mr. Lincoln” and as a performer reflecting on a career dominated by a single character. For some actors that situation is limiting (think Eugene O’Neill Senior or Leonard Nimoy), but Klein makes it creative; he is a writer as well. It was also wonderful to catch a performance by the Spirit of Lincoln Youth Leadership Academy players (shown below), who reflected on the legacy of Frederick Douglass and brought the character of Mrs. Lincoln’s seamstress (a freed slave) to life. Here are a few ways that Illinois’ capital city is using living history this summer, each one a good reminder that live performances can animate the past:
- Hear Civil War period music from the Lincoln Troubadours
- Witness a moving flag lowering ceremony at the Lincoln Tomb
- Hear “Music Lincoln Loved” weekly at the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon
- Interact with 19th century characters at sites like the Lincoln Home, Old State Capitol and Lincoln Depot
- Meet Mr. Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln!
- See demonstrations about life in 19th century Springfield