It’s not easy walking in Abraham Lincoln’s shoes.
Alan Schell found playing the part of one of the United States’ most famous presidents to be challenging, but not because he didn’t know the character well.
It was the top hat.
“If I ever wear this again, I’ve got to somehow work on this so it fits my head better,” Schell said.
Schell, a former U.S. history teacher, dressed up like Lincoln and gave a presidential presentation before a room full of students at Oak Harbor Christian School Wednesday.
Donning a scraggly fake beard and a top hat stuffed with rags, Schell found the hat to be a little too top heavy but still managed to talk for about a half hour while playing the president he’s found to be the most fascinating of them all.
He was invited to speak to students in kindergarten through sixth grade in honor of Presidents’ Day, which is observed Monday.
“Hi,” Schell said, making an entrance into the room. “What a group. What a group.
“One hundred and ninety-eight years ago on Sunday was my birthday. I am 198-years-old.”
Playing Lincoln was sort of, well, old hat.
Schell had made the presentation in character before about six years ago at HomeConnection, where he once taught, and at Oak Harbor Christian School, and got the call to break out the getup again.
“I can’t say it’s something I love to do,” Schell said. “I love history. And I read a lot.”
Lincoln fascinates him because of his lesser-known back story about humble beginnings and personal loss.
He had very little formal education yet rose to prominence in politics and is now remembered as one of the country’s most famous presidents.
At the time, however, Lincoln was largely unpopular and the central figure in a nation divided over the issue of slavery, which led to the Civil War.
Playing Lincoln, Schell explained to the students one of the president’s proudest moments, freeing all slaves in the rebelling states in the South by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
He was assassinated two years later.
“Nowadays, everyone pats me on the back and said I did the right thing,” Schell said as Lincoln to the students. “But it was very difficult to do and was not popular.
“Some people worshipped me and some people hated me and wanted to string me up.”
After his presentation, Schell fielded questions about Lincoln, ranging from whether the president’s teeth were real (they were), how tall he was (6-foot-4) and who his friends were.
“My friends were some of my enemies who became friends,” Lincoln told the kids. “Almost all of my cabinet — the cabinet are people who were my advisors — originally at one time or another were my enemies.
“I believe in getting people who disagree with me along side of me so I could hear their side of the story and listen to them so I can understand them.”
Although some of the material was a little heavy for the younger children, the talk was well received and the sight of Abraham Lincoln welcome on campus.
Schell, a retired synthetic organic chemist who once ran Upchurch Scientific, now part of Oak Harbor-based IDEX Corporation, said he didn’t really have any motives for his talk. He just wanted to share some history, entertain and read to the kids.
Sixth grade teacher Mary Beth Eelkema, who invited Schell to come to the school, said she liked the message about standing up for beliefs and not choosing the path of least resistance.
“I think some misunderstandings were dispelled,” she said. “I think that probably it touched on areas that I hope will make them (students) go and investigate more.”
Maybe not the kindergartners, who may come away wondering if the man standing before them really was approaching 200.
“They don’t have that concept of time to realize that it couldn’t be the real Abraham Lincoln,” she said.