“Look! There he comes,” an excited and plump sixth grader at T. W. Hunter Middle School said as he outstretched his arm and pointed his finger at the tall man towering over heads of teachers.
He came dressed in a suit, vest and bowtie, and of course that top hat.
Everyone was “little miss” and “sir,” to him, and he shook hands with them all. Heads poked around corners to catch a glimpse of him, and teachers came up to ask him history questions, playing along with the act.
The man with the attention is Nashvillian Dennis Boggs, husband of 19 years to Molly Boggs and father to four children. He can be found with his wife Molly eating at their favorite restaurant Cracker Barrel where he is frequently taken by guests to the fire place to have pictures made, even while out of the infamous bowtie and hat.
His long angular face and 6’4’’ stature are enough even in shorts and a T-shirt; Dennis Boggs is undeniably Abraham Lincoln.
Boggs has made a full time job of presenting his Meet Mr. Lincoln program to schools, museums, history events, and more. If he ever got to meet Lincoln himself “I think all I‘d say is thank you,” Boggs said.
Without having Lincoln here now, he turns to an old friend and fellow Lincoln impersonator Jim Sayre for advice. He gave him a wise phrase he keeps with him to this day: “When you put on this suit, sure it‘ll be a lot of fun. But it comes with responsibility,” Boggs said.
The suit, by the way, is topnotch. With many seemingly aged pieces, the overcoat, jacket, dress shirt, and pocket watch come together to be so persuasively antique, they beg audiences to believe Boggs must have come straight from the 19th century.
But no. Boggs orders Lincoln’s clothes online from Quartermaster Shop, a business specializing in reproductions of men’s military uniforms as far back as the 1700s.
The suit makes for the finishing touches, but if it weren’t for Molly, there wouldn’t be a need for the fancy get-up at all. Boggs credits Molly for encouraging him to pursue this unlikely career path.
He is lucky Molly is so supportive, Boggs said but also because “my wife is in love with another man. And I happen to be him,” referring to Abraham Lincoln.
Not everyone was so sure of his chosen second life however. His in-laws thought he had lost his mind, and Boggs said his children figured he would eventually “get over it.”
But so far, Boggs is going strong. Starting as a part time gig he found amusing, it has developed to his sole source of income and the reason he has traveled the very country he has theatrically given the oath of office to.
Boggs isn’t fond of the term impersonator. He prefers story-teller. He tells the story of Lincoln’s life in first person, engaging his listeners with interactive audience involvement and light hearted jokes to balance the darkness of Lincoln’s life.
Boggs won first place at the National Abraham Lincoln Look Alike and Oratorical Competition in Illinois in 2009. He regularly performs for grade schools, universities, museums, celebratory history events, places of political offices, and more. The program Boggs brings to these places is known today as Meet Mr. Lincoln.
He regularly visits Fort Negley in Nashville for historical events and he sometimes stops by unexpectedly.
Museum Coordinator Krista Castillo at Fort Negley Park adores Boggs as Abraham Lincoln and what he does for the Nashville Metro park.
“When people know he’s going to here, he packs the house,” Castillo said. “He‘s so good. He is just meant to do this.”
Abraham Lincoln is also a favorite with students and teachers as well.
T. W. Hunter sixth grade teacher Jennifer Castle has seen the story teller seven times.
When she first saw him, she was shocked by how much he looked like the president. Even his mannerisms, she said, were so in character.
The kids’ reactions are Castle’s favorite. Some students, she said have come back from the presentation and asked if it was really him.
“He is like a Santa Clause to them,“ Castle said.
Although Boggs alters his presentation based on the age of his audience, he always hits hard on one thing he is very adamant about: education.
“You’ve got to understand one of the reasons I’m so passionate about going to school and I’m talking about the importance of education is I didn’t have any,” Boggs said.
“When I was 16, I had a full time job, a car and a girlfriend. I thought I got it made, so I dropped out of high school.”
Boggs didn’t get his high school diploma until he was 39 years old.
Without much of a formal education, he mirrors Abraham Lincoln.
Boggs reads any book to become a self-taught Lincoln, just as Lincoln did to become a self-taught lawyer.
Becoming Lincoln wasn’t something that came naturally or even something he welcomed. In fact, he turned down opportunities to impersonate Honest Abe for quite sometime until a family friend of his asked him to give a presentation at the school where she taught.
And of course, Boggs said no.
At her insistence, he gave the lady a number of what he thought a ridiculous amount as payment for the job. This was sure to get him off the hook, Boggs thought.
And of course, she said yes.
So for a whopping $300 on Feb. 12, 1977 Dennis Boggs became Abraham Lincoln.
And the rest is history.