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Lincoln impersonator and educator Lou Del Bianco visited Meadow Pond Elementary School and Katonah Elementary School just before Presidents' Week with a message of perseverance for the students.
From the tips of his size fourteen boots to the top of his stovepipe hat, Abraham Lincoln was almost seven feet tall. Lou Del Bianco is that same height when he strides into a classroom in a black frockcoat, beard, and top hat. His resemblance to President Lincoln is remarkable.
"I can only stay a while; I must practice a speech," Mr. Lincoln tells the second graders while pulling a folded sheet of paper out of his hat. A few seconds later, he changes his mind and tucks it into his jacket pocket.
“I was born on the prairie. My family was dirt poor and life was hard,” Mr. Lincoln reminisced. “My parents were illiterate. My mother Nancy wanted me to have an education, but I only went to school for eleven months in my whole life. I taught myself to read and write. I taught myself law. I became a legislator and the sixteenth President of the United States of America.”
“Because I was so poor, I had to persevere,” said Mr. Lincoln. “What does persevere mean?” he asked the second graders sitting before him.
“Don’t give up,” said one child.
“Exactly. Who here likes to read?” asked Mr. Lincoln. “If you don’t love to read right now, don’t worry. Persevere and you will love to read.”
Mr. Lincoln asked groups of students to simultaneously recite the alphabet, sing "Happy Birthday," and count to thirty, recreating the raucous reality of his one-room schoolhouse. He also cast children as a man, his daughter, and their donkey, and acted out one of his favorite Aesop’s Fables. Students laughed and learned the true stories behind his nicknames Abe the Rail Splitter, Honest Abe, and Abe the Prairie Lawyer.
They also sat in silence as Mr. Lincoln described being in New Orleans as a twenty-one-year-old and seeing a slave auction for the first time.
“I promised myself I would try to stop slavery,” said Mr. Lincoln. "I couldn't stop it as a lawyer or a legislator, but I persevered. When I became president, I made slavery illegal through the Emancipation Proclamation."
Abraham Lincoln took the folded paper out of his jacket pocket. He tells the class that it is 1863 and the Civil War has ended. He is in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to deliver a speech in honor of the soldiers who lost their lives.
Students help Mr. Lincoln practice his speech, repeating the first lines after him.
"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
Del Bianco ends his presentation with questions. The children had many questions about Lincoln’s assassination as well as “What were your sons like?” and “How old would you be today?"
This year, he was asked a question that stumped him.
“How has your office changed since you were president?”
“I have never been asked that question before!” said Del Bianco. “I don’t know how the Oval Office has changed since the 1860s. I will look that up!”
“I will, too,” said the student.