Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Stan Wertz and David Walker, July 9, 2016

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:02 - Introducing David Walker who portrays Jefferson Davis and Stan Wertz who portrays Abraham Lincoln

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Partial Transcript: My name is JD Carruthers. And this is an interview for the Living History Reenactors Oral History Project...

Segment Synopsis: Walker says his early interest in living history was reenacting a soldier. He talks about his changing levels of interest in the hobby over time. He says that he was enticed to portray Jefferson Davis by a living history reenactor who portrayed Lincoln. He says he took the role more seriously once another reenactor portraying Davis died. He says doing living history came naturally after retiring as an elementary school teacher. He adds that he has a master's degree in history with six areas of concentration. He talks about speaking at many historical forums, and how he must distinguish between his words and views and the words and views of historical characters. He says he specialized in Jacksonian through Reconstruction, American Revolution through the Constitution, Civil Rights Movement, the Tudor and Stuart dynasties, immigrants in history, and women in history. Wertz says his involvement in living history began when he was a music teacher and president of the teachers' association. He says after advising other teachers to keep their whiskers, he grew a beard to set an example and a student remarked that he looked like Lincoln. He says this led to incorporating Lincoln in his lesson plans. He says a history teacher invited him to deliver the Gettysburg Address to a class, and this led to greater involvement as a living history performer.

Keywords: Abraham Lincoln; American history; Battle of Gettysburg; Civil War reenactments; Elementary schools; Gettysburg (Pa.); Gettysburg Address; Jefferson Davis; Native Americans; Periodization; Slavery; Soldiers; Symposiums; Teachers

Subjects: Civil War leaders; Civil war.; Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889.; Gettysburg, Battle of, Gettysburg, Pa., 1863.; Heritage Village Museum; Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.

GPS: Heritage Village Museum
Map Coordinates: 39.2780, -84.4000
00:07:42 - Living history events and appearances

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Partial Transcript: And now, uh, you'd, uh--I, I've seen you together before at the Ramage Museum, uh, and you're here this weekend. Do y'all try to coordinate your schedules for appearances, or, uh, uh?

Segment Synopsis: Wertz says that he takes whatever gigs that are offered to him, but he is always grateful to work with Walker. He says they do not necessarily coordinate their schedules. Walker says that he has worked with eleven different Lincoln impersonators. He says that there are more Lincoln reenactors than Davis reenactors. Walker says he goes to events from Virginia all the way to Indiana and Illinois. He says that during the Civil War sesquicentennial he attended many national historical events. He talks about his unique beard which establishes a period in Davis' life for the purposes of his living history presentation. He talks about Davis' personal qualities and poor political skills compared to Lincoln, who he says was a master politician.

Keywords: Abraham Lincoln; James A. Ramage Civil War Museum; Jefferson Davis; Living history events; Varina Davis

Subjects: Civil War leaders; Civil war.; Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889.; Heritage Village Museum; Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.

00:12:21 - Living history research and interpretation

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Partial Transcript: As far as the substance of your presentation, your interpretation, um, I, I, I, I'm, I, no doubt have--I do not doubt that you both have done a lot of scholarship on your respective characters.

Segment Synopsis: Wertz and Walker agree that their research is composed of extensive reading of secondary sources. Wertz says he has over four-hundred books on Lincoln which he uses to answer questions from the public. He discusses a point of nuance he researched regarding a quote from Lincoln about his mother. Walker talks about Lincoln's relationship with his parents. Walker says that living history interpreters must research primary sources and talks about the grey areas of history that can only be clarified with original research. Wertz talks about his eleven volume set of the Complete Works of Lincoln. Walker talks about Lincoln's shifting views and members of the public who hate Lincoln. He talks about oral traditions of history that are not accurate, such as family lore about Sherman marching through Missouri. Walker talks about his acquaintance with historian Allen Guelzo and his high respect for him.

Keywords: Abraham Lincoln; Allen Guelzo; Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln; Fort Sumter; Gettysburg College; Jefferson Davis; Living historians; Michael Burlingame; Militia; Oral history; Original sources; Periodization; Provenance; Research; Secession; Secondary sources; Slavery; Thomas Lincoln

Subjects: Civil war.; Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889.; Heritage Village Museum; Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865--Anecdotes.; Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.

00:20:50 - Views on authenticity

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you, uh, one of the things I'm kind of exploring is about experiential communications s--uh, instead of reading about it in a book, seeing it and feeling it and tasting it and smelling it, and, and using kind of a sensory thing to learn about history.

Segment Synopsis: Wertz says that authenticity is paramount, and there is a need for living history interpreters to correct erroneous historical information. Walker talks about the need to achieve authenticity in the historical figure's words, but also authenticity in material culture such as attire. Walker points out that if he wears a black outfit he is often mistaken for Lincoln. Wertz says that it is critical to be true to the character regardless. He refers to a presentation he made at an inner city school in which he said Lincoln believed African Americans should be colonized away from the U.S., to which the teacher and students vigorously disagreed. Wertz says that it is critical to present this side of Lincoln better to understand his developing views and character over time. Wertz talks about Lincoln's ability to change his mind and he refers to Lincoln's open letter to Horace Greeley. Walker brings up the issue of removing statues and talks about a Davis quote about re-enslaving or shooting African Americans. He says he has often encountered people with confirmed views on Davis until they had the opportunity to hear Walker's presentation on Davis, and he discusses the ability of a living history interpreter to influence views on historical figures. Walker points out that victors write the history, and that the public has difficulty distinguishing historical concepts that are complex beyond binary relationships. He points out that Lincoln was not an abolitionist and Davis was not a fire eater. Walker talks about Billy Herndon's early biography of Lincoln that was previously discounted by scholars but has recently gained more relevance. Walker says that living history interpreters are essentially storytellers and much of the narrative depends on perspective.

Keywords: Attire; Authenticity; Dredd Scott; Educators; Emancipation Proclamation; John Emerson; Persona; Slavery; Statues; Union; William "Billy" Herndon

Subjects: Civil War leaders; Civil war.; Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889.; Heritage Village Museum; Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.; Reenactment history; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.

00:28:22 - Favorite memory from a living history event

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Partial Transcript: Th, this morning, uh, the, uh, gentleman I interviewed was--talked about a progressive sense of, you know, taking living history reenactment and, as a learning process, and so not only is he learning but he's also making new presentations...

Segment Synopsis: Wertz says his favorite memory as a living history performer was at a reenactment of Gettysburg. Walker says his favorite memory was as a Union soldier at the Gettysburg reenactment and experiencing a sense of realism when facing Confederate soldiers reenacting Pickett's Charge. He says another favorite memory involves impressing members of the public with new historical information about Davis. Walker also talks about his need to learn more about Lincoln and how he learns from other living history performers. He discusses the importance of history to developing critical thinking skills, and how students depend on electronic devices for information.

Keywords: Colleges; Critical thinking skills; Gettysburg (Pa.); Governor Ben Butler Park; Higher education; Infantry; Jefferson Davis; Libraries; No Child Left Behind; Pickett's Charge; Robert E. Lee

Subjects: Civil War leaders; Civil war.; Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889.; Heritage Village Museum; Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.