Actors, Homer Sewell and Xylona, playing Abe and Mary Lincoln at Van Gogh’s Hideaway in Jasper Friday, May 4.
Long of frame, swathed in black and topped with a stovepipe hat, a ringer for our 16th president held forth on a Jasper Friday evening, May 4, attended by his presidential wife, also soberly attired, but in a hoop skirt. The players were local Lincoln impersonator Homer Sewell and his sidekick (soon to be spouse) Xylona, who portrays Lincoln's first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln (Xylona's blog).
Van Gogh's Hideaway proprietor Kathe Hall hosted the Civil War era couple, welcomed as performance artists presenting within the Hideaway gallery. Hall hosts regular Friday evening socials in the space. Each event features a local or North Georgia artist. For information on planned upcoming events, you can contact Van Gogh's Hideaway at 404-580-5013.
That Friday the Lincoln presentation touched a bit on the backgrounds of the players and offered a sample of the Lincoln and Lady ensemble the two take on the road as their full-time jobs.
Homer Sewell first began portraying Lincoln part-time in 1975 in Florida after hearing a radio public service announcement seeking adults to speak to school children about their area of expertise. While a soldier, Sewell had worked as a switchboard operator at the Whitehouse when Lyndon Johnson was president. Sewell's first talks to kids were about that Whitehouse work.
A history buff, he soon crafted a Lincoln-centered talk, presented in character as the famous president. Sewell resembles the man. Today the presentation includes stories Lincoln told along with gentle advice to students that they respect parents and teachers and avoid violence and recreational drug use. In addition, Sewell challenges young listeners to pursue their dreams despite all adversity, as Lincoln did.
After traveling nationwide for a number of years as a full-time Lincoln impersonator, Sewell has paired with Xylona as Mary Todd Lincoln in the past year. She adds a "Girl Power" emphasis to the presentation, reminding young females they too have the power to pursue dreams and become world changers.
Mary Lincoln was the first presidential wife to be referred to as the First Lady, Xylona informed her gallery listeners. "I was even sometimes called ‘Mrs. President,’" she said. "I think I liked that as well as any part of it."
"You can't look at Lincoln's life and not be inspired," Sewell told the Van Gogh's audience. A person from humble beginnings, Lincoln faced numerous hardships, failures and personal griefs before and after achieving the high office where service to his country won him lasting fame.
As Lincoln, Sewell told some stories Lincoln told, that president being particularly fond of storytelling. He recounted a time when as a young man he lifted a young relative upside down, so the lad could walk some muddy footprints across the whitewashed ceiling of the new Lincoln family cabin.
The joke was on Lincoln's new stepmother, for whom the house was built. But Honest Abe was good enough to 'fess up to his stepmom about the prank and to re-whitewash the overhead.
Some later as a lawyer, he was lawyering on a hot afternoon in court, this Lincoln related. It was so hot the judge allowed both lawyers to remove their coats. Figuring he might ought to retain his formality, Lincoln kept his coat on, he said. The other lawyer stripped his off, revealing a fancy frilled shirt of the era that buttoned up down the back. Lincoln saw his opportunity.
"I ask you gentlemen of the jury, how could you trust the argument of a man who doesn't even know which side his shirt should be buttoned on?" The coated lawyer won the case.
Sewell told one more of a train ride Lincoln made from Springfield, Illinois to Chicago for handling some lawyer business. He noticed across the aisle of the coach "the ugliest, homeliest feller I'd ever seen," Lincoln said. The man got to looking hard at Lincoln, he said, and directly sprung up and drew a rifle from out of the luggage rack overhead.
"I told my mama if I ever found a feller uglier than I was, I'd shoot him on the spot," the man let out.
"Well, friend, if I'm any uglier than you are, I want you to go ahead and shoot me and put me out of my misery," Lincoln returned. It must have turned out alright.
Near the close of his presentation, Sewell recited Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, once a common assignment for memorization by school children. Whenever he visits in schools, he makes a habit of asking if anyone present has ever memorized the Gettysburg Address, Sewell said.
"The only hands going up today are parents and teachers," he said. "Our schools are getting away from teaching basic patriotism."
Thankfully, it is not that way everywhere. "The last school we visited, seven little girls had lunch with President and Mrs. Lincoln, because they learned the Gettysburg Address," Xylona reported.
Sewell indicated that in every appearance he makes before school children as Abraham Lincoln he challenges them to pursue their dreams without let-up.
“If a big ugly guy like me could make it from a dirt floor log cabin past a whole lot of sadness to go on to become president of the United States, then never give up,” he advises. “You can become whatever you want in your lives.”