James Hayney has a smile you’ll never forget. And if you want to get a peek of that ear-to-ear grin, just ask him about Abraham Lincoln.
If you listen to James talk, you’d think he’s had a life-long passion, even obsession, with the 16th President. But his love for Lincoln, sort of speak, only goes back about 15 years. It was then that the trained actor was asked to appear at a fundraiser dressed as Lincoln. As he looked in the mirror, he noticed a resemblance that will likely stick with him for the rest of his life.
As an actor, James always had interest in leading a one-man play, but he could never find the right fit, he said. But after his introduction to Lincoln during the fundraiser, he came across a script written by Herbert Mitgang and began his life portraying the 16th president. “And the rest, as they say, is history,” James added.
As the number of appearances grew, so did his understanding of Lincoln. In other words, it was no longer just about looking like Lincoln, but about representing the president and being able to answer questions about Lincoln, even to young children.
Today, James travels throughout the Mid-Atlantic, sometimes farther, to represent Lincoln, and joins a small field of men throughout the United States that portrays one of America’s favorite presidents.
James quickly noticed that even without the black suit, stovepipe hat and white gloves, that he still resembles Lincoln – even in a baseball hat and sunglasses.
“I don’t want to do anything to denigrate Lincoln,” he laughed. “By doing Lincoln, it makes me a better person,” James pondered.
Of all the audiences that James has presented Lincoln before, it’s children that makes this later-life career so special for him. He’s presented before children of all ages and the tall stature of James as Lincoln is something that often leaves kids awe-struck, and in turn, leaves James feeling privileged to honor such a great leader in American history.