MARION — “Happy birthday, Abe,” I say, greeting Lance Mack in the food court at the Marion Hy-Vee.
“Why, thank you,” he replies. “I feel good for a man of 204.”
Yes, today is Presidents Day, the Federal holiday that celebrates the births of George Washington (Feb. 22, 1732) and Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12, 1809), our first and 16th presidents.
And today, Mack, a Lincoln impersonator for 25 years, delivers the keynote address at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library in Boston, Mass.
“This will probably take No. 1,” Lance says when asked about his most prestigious appearance. “I’m hoping this trip to Boston will crack the East Coast market.”
Lance has appeared as the 16th president around the country including for President Obama’s visit to Eastern Iowa last summer, at the Lincoln international school in San Jose, Costa Rica, even in Washington, D.C. on vacation.
“I have been warmly welcomed and rudely chased away at the Lincoln Memorial,” he says.
One time, a National Park Services ranger took him aside and said, in no uncertain terms, that “impostors” weren’t welcome. Another time, a ranger said, “What you’re doing is wonderful. Keep it up.”
When he’s dressed as Lincoln — Mack stands 6-5, Lincoln was 6-3, so Lance wears a 7-inch tall stovepipe hat to Lincoln’s 9-inch one — he’s always in character. The Gettysburg Address easily rolls off his tongue, as do historical facts and Lincoln’s mannerisms as best he could uncover.
“I’ve always believed that for an actor to be successful in anything, an element of the character has to speak to something inside you.”
It wasn’t always that way for this Hammond, Ind., native who has lived throughout the Midwest and first moved to Cedar Rapids a dozen years ago. He now lives in Marion with his wife, Maureen.
“He’s not the man I married,” she jokes. “I married Frank Zappa.”
That was 33 years ago.
“When we got married I had a Fu Manchu mustache, so yeah, I looked like Frank Zappa,” he laughs.
But he grew a beard, then shaved off the mustache and began portraying Lincoln. His first appearance at Crossroads Village near Flint, Mich., resulted in repeat invitations. He earns up to $1,000 for a weekend appearance but sometimes just likes to have fun.
Last year, for the premier of the movie “Lincoln” in Cedar Rapids, he dressed as Lincoln and was accompanied by a dozen Civil War re-enactors who all received free admission. (Yes, he removed his hat as he watched the movie.)
As a student of Lincoln, Lance thought the movie was well done but wishes it would have covered more than the last few months up to Lincoln’s assassination.
When Lance, 63, dies, he wants his ashes scattered among the bushes around Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Ill.“Everybody has to end up somewhere,” he says.