photo by Jerry Baldock
photo by Jerry Baldock
Abraham Lincoln told stories to relieve tension. He proved himself to his administration and to his nation as a sensible and determined politician, and as an able and innovative commander-in-chief during the ultimate national crisis — The American Civil War.

For the sixth year of the Civil War Living History event in Camp Sherman reenactor Stephen Holgate brought Abraham Lincoln to life during a 25-minute presentation, followed by a “press conference” where he took questions from the audience.

For nearly 20 years Holgate has entertained and educated a variety of audiences with his engaging portrayal of our nation’s 16th president.

Holgate wrote a one-man play on Lincoln because he had a continuing interest in theater and in history. An enthusiast and Civil War buff, Holgate is passionate about the part. His look, his delivery, and his knowledge truly capture the essence of “Honest Abe.”

Holgate told The Nugget, “It’s quite a responsibility to play Lincoln. He’s so important, not only to Americans, but to people all around the world. Sharing him with my audiences is a real privilege, and I have to live up to it.

“I’ve taken the program, Lincoln Town Hall, up and down the West Coast and to Idaho and to Washington, DC. When I was still in the State Department, I performed as Lincoln in Mexico, Bahrain, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. I’m really grateful to David Banks and the Civil War re-enactors for their continuing invitation to their meets.”

Holgate is a fifth-generation Oregonian who served as a diplomat at American embassies in France, Madagascar, Morocco, Mexico and Sri Lanka.

He noted, “I was usually the embassy press spokesman and cultural attaché, or earlier in my career, the assistant.”

He was also an actor with the national tour of an improvisational theater group.

“I started acting seriously in high school, majored in theater in college and have done plays intermittently throughout my adult life,” Holgate said. “I still enjoy doing theater, though now I mostly just do Lincoln. Lincoln means a lot to us, so it’s an honor and challenge to do him. I also like to share what I’ve learned about him. The Lincoln we think we know is quite real. He was tremendously honest, had a great heart and was very wise. But he’s more complex than we often think of him. He was a human being with human failings, which, when we think about it, really makes his achievements more impressive.”

Event Coordinator David Banks noted, “At our School Day on Friday, I have seen him capture and hold the attention of 100 middle school students, a restless audience if ever there was one. He does the same Saturday with the general public audience.”

Holgate has researched extensively about Lincoln and has found a few things that most people don’t know about him.

Holgate said, “He was a champion wrestler as a young man, and he’s the only president with a patent. This patent was for an inflatable bladder that could help small freight boats get over rocks in low water. About the time he invented it, though, railroads came along, and people no longer needed boats to come up small rivers.”