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Gettysburg's lesson still burns 150 years later

7/8/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

He looked the part, so Steve Burns started playing the part.

Burns, an Abraham Lincoln re-enactor from Russell, has dressed up and played Lincoln at everything from grade schools to holidays for the last four years. On Saturday afternoon, he was at Ellis County Historical Society Museum as part of Wild West Fest activities, delighting a standing-room only crowd with his presentation, which included reading the Gettysburg Address.

"When I first started doing this, I'd get real nervous and stutter and stammer," Burns said. "But the more I do it, the more I enjoy it.

"I have met so many people doing this. It's just fabulous."

Burns got his start playing Lincoln by accident. His wife and her father decided to go on a long trip together, and Burns decided to grow a beard while they were gone. When his wife got back, she started trimming it, and after approximately a half-dozen times of whacking away at it, she stopped all of a sudden, with this look on her face, Burns said.

"I can still see the look on her face, a look I never seen before on her," Burns said.

Burns figured his wife had done something wrong while trimming, and he would have to shave off his beard. Instead, she told him to look in the mirror. He did, and staring back at him was Abe Lincoln.

Still, Burns didn't start right away doing presentations as Lincoln. Instead, his wife started collecting material on the 16th president. Finally, Burns decided to dig in and study the man, which led to his presentations.

Burns hadn't known much about Lincoln; that's not the case now.

"I was not (interested in Lincoln). I knew who he was," Burns said. "I hated history in school, but I love it now. I can't get enough."

Burns, at 6-foot-4 with long arms and legs, has the same lanky frame as Lincoln. On Saturday, he was wearing a stovepipe hat he bought from a store in Wichita, and was wearing a coat and vest. He took out his spectacles to read from a piece of paper the Gettysburg Address, which Lincoln read Nov. 19, 1863, to consecrate a cemetery at the battlefield.

"I have a hard time memorizing things," Burns said. "I try to keep enough information in my head so I can keep the ball rolling.

"Lincoln hardly had anything memorized. The Gettysburg Address, he wrote about four times on the train, and he read it at Gettysburg; he did not have it memorized."

Burns, who is semi-retired, lives outside Russell. He is self-employed, helping farmers with their harvest, doing construction jobs and portable welding.

But Burns always makes time to transform into Lincoln.

"I plan to keep on doing it because it's so much fun," he said.

On Burns' bucket list is to trace Lincoln's life and visit where he lived, from his boyhood home in Kentucky, to his days as a lawyer in Springfield, Ill., to being president in Washington and finally to Gettysburg.