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Presidential Posers

Wisemans recreate Lincolns through
appearances as lookalike impersonators

 

By Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer

VEVAY, Ind. • Even before he had his beard, Bill Wiseman was constantly told he looked like Abraham Lincoln. 
"People would always say, 'Do you know you look like Mr. Lincoln?' " he said sitting in the living room of his farm north of Vevay, Ind.
"Even with biking shorts and a helmet on, people were asking for pictures of him," said his wife, Stasia.

This resemblence to the 16th president has resulted in this couple's on-and-off portrayal of the First Couple over the past twenty-five years. Bill and Stacia started the President Lincoln and Mary Todd impersonations during the Bicentennial Year of 1976. Since then, they have performed in states ranging from Florida and Kentucky, and in venues such as Republican banquets, schools, churches and Walt Disney World's Epcot Center. 
They are currently members of Association of Lincoln Presenters, a national organization, and two years ago they won a prestigious annual Lincoln lookalike competition in Lincoln's birthplace city, Hodgenville, Ky.
On President's Day this month, the couple will make their first local appearance as the Lincolns at the Captain's Quarters Bed and Breakfast on Hwy. 56 near Vevay.
The historic house is believed to have possibly been once visited by Lincoln, according to its owner Donna Bumstead. 
Bumstead has spent a great deal of time researching the house's history and is currently seeking documentation to support Lincoln's presence there.
Meanwhile, the Wisemans will present speeches and poems like they have done so in the past. At times, Bill will deliver the popular Gettysburg Address and Farewell Address; Stacia will perform anonymous poems she has found about the Lincoln. 
"We don't go into a lot of politics in our show," said Bill. "We do a lot of family stuff." Bill will often tell stories and jokes that Lincoln would have told, as he was known to do both in his time.
The Wisemans, both New Jersey natives, have been performing on stage together for 51 years when not as the Lincolns, as musicians or theatre artists. They met while working for a pharmaceutical plant called Hoffman-LaRoche in Nutley, N.J. 
Stacia's family boasted a music background her father led a Polish orchestra. It was her father who first encouraged Bill to play the bass fiddle. They started to perform in musical productions and Christmas shows. 
In 1952, they relocated to Eustis, Fla., where they became involved in community theater. Bill already had a background of theater and drama at Rollins College. 
While living in Florida, the Wisemans experienced the development of Walt Disney World. A few years later, Bill became involved in the live nativity at nearby Pleasure Island Village.
He played various others roles, including extras in a couple of feature films that were being made in Miami. But still he was constantly reminded of his resemblance to Lincoln. Therefore, the couple continued to portray the Lincolns, increasing their performances from 15 minutes to 45. 
Sometimes, they would perform with their daughter, Sheree. "When we first did the show, we had our daughter (Sheree Barrell) play a military drummer," said Stacia. Now Barrell lives in Lawrenceburg, Ind.
"We always enjoyed teasing him that he looked like Lincoln," Barrell said of her father. "But my dad studied so hard to learn his mannerisms and the things he said. He's such a perfectionist when it comes to portraying him."
The Wisemans have another daughter, Terri, who works as a spa director for a resort in Palo Alto, Calif. By living so close and performing at Walt Disney World, it was inevitable that Bill would appear as Lincoln there. Disney producer Ron Severini asked him to do Lincoln at Disney's Epcot Center. Bill's Lincoln portrayal took place mostly during special events and contract-related assignments, a lot of them during the month of February when many times he stood by for autographs and photographs with tourists.
The couple came to Vevay in 1999 to be closer to their daughter, Sheree. Recently, they have become best known for their musical performances and their efforts in helping to organize the year-round concert series at the Historic Hoosier Theater in Vevay. They are frequently seen performing the dulcimer and autoharp at venues such as folk festivals, school, variety shows and civic clubs. 
Bill finds it a more laid-back type of performance. "I don't have to color my hair. I can tune my dulcimer and go."
In addition, Bill is a woodworker who makes instruments. He teaches the dulcimer.
Though the couple has not performed the Lincolns as consistently as they used to, they have not let go of the memories. "It's kind of a treasure," said Stacia, indicating the scrapbooks full of pictures of the couple portraying the Lincolns.
As Bill puts it, "When I get prepared for a Lincoln show and put on the Lincoln costume, I feel very much like the character."

• Bill and Stacia Wiseman will portray the Lincolns on Feb. 17-18 at the Captain's Quarters Bed & Breakfast, 473 Hwy. 156, Vevay, IN. Bill Wiseman will address the crowd at noon and 2 p.m. each day. Photos taken with the Lincolns. Admission $2. Call 1-800-HELLO-VV for information.

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