It happens constantly to the Rev. Bruce Hanks. People take one look at him and gasp in mock horror, “Hey, I thought you were dead!”
“I’m a dead ringer for Abe Lincoln,” says Hanks. “I even have a wart on my cheek where Lincoln had his.” But that isn’t all. “My great-great-great-grandfather,” says Hanks, who has the same measurements (6’4″, 190 lbs.) as Lincoln, “was a cousin of Nancy Hanks, Lincoln’s mother.”
A former Baptist minister who lives in a white stucco house in Minneapolis, Hanks left the clergy in 1972 to begin playing Lincoln professionally. Without any formal theatrical training—though he says that “20 years in the ministry is like 20 years of lessons in dramatics”—he has been touring the U.S. ever since. Bedecked in a Lincolnesque outfit, the 51-year-old Hanks delivers a slide lecture about Lincoln’s life and finishes off with a solemn recitation of the Gettysburg Address.
“My working clothes are a long frock coat, black trousers and a vest,” says Hanks. “They’re all polyester double knits—Lincoln never had it so good.”
Acting as his own agent, Hanks earns from $85 to $100 for a half-day, and averages 12 to 15 programs a week. “I’m swamped,” Hanks complains cheerfully. “I’m turning down appointments every day.”
Hanks’ wife—like Lincoln’s spouse, her name is Mary—and three of their eight children occasionally assist in his programs, selling tickets and keeping the books. Hanks expects eventually to return to the ministry, but during the Bicentennial year he has found contentment playing the sixteenth President. “When people tell me how much I look like Lincoln,” he laughs, “I say, ‘Thank you, I’m flattered.’ Then I pull out my business card.”