For 30 years, Roger Jenot taught American history classes at Carey High School. Because he looked so much like Abraham Lincoln, he started playing the role of the 16th U.S. President for programs at schools, libraries and other locations.
In observance of Presidents' Day, Jenot gave a program Saturday at the American Civil War Museum of Ohio with about two dozen people attending. Jenot explained how he was persuaded to role play the Abraham Lincoln.
"I had a student in my class one day who seemed to think I looked like the picture (of Lincoln) on the wall," Jenot said.
For his early presentations, Jenot did not have period attire, except for a stovepipe hat the art teacher made for him. He had to learn what details he should omit from his presentations. When he told a kindergarten class that President Lincoln liked the having kittens in the White House to calm him and ease his depression, the children all wanted to talk about their own pets.
"I had a young man, about 7 or 8 years old, that said something to me about elephants," Jenot said.
He said the boy was embarrassed when his classmates laughed, but Jenot saw it as a teachable moment. He told the class the King of Siam had offered to send elephants to help Lincoln win the Civil War.
As was portrayed in the recently-released motion picture, "Lincoln," the president was famous for his story telling. He also is the subject of many stories that have been passed along. Jenot narrated one incident in which Lincoln was giving a speech at the White House, and his son, Tad, upstaged him by waving a Confederate flag from the balcony above his father.
At some points in the program, Jenot took questions from the audience. One person asked what books or authors Jenot found to be the most helpful. He named books by Benjamin Thomas and David H. Donald, among many others.
Jenot said he saw "Lincoln." He gave high marks to Daniel Day Lewis for the excitement and emotion the actor exhibited in his role as the president.
"I thought Tommy Lee Jones, that played the radical Republican, Thaddeus Stevens, was fabulous," Jenot said.
He also thought Sally Field was a good fit for Mary Todd Lincoln. The film was a highly accurate account of the events associated with passage of the 13th Amendment, to abolish slavery. Jenot was pleased that the movie mentioned James Ashley, from Toledo, the congressman who was behind the writing the amendment.
"That's what brings this back to Northwest Ohio. They covered Ashley, and I thought he got quite a bit of coverage," Jenot said.
During his research, Jenot learned about an attempt on Lincoln's life in 1864. The president often made unescorted trips to the family's Anderson Cottage, three miles outside of Washington, D.C. On one such trip, someone had fired at Lincoln and knocked off his hat. After that, a special unit was organized to guard him.
"When he went in a wagon down the streets of D.C., he was so embarrassed because he didn't want to look like he was scared and needed those people," Jenot said.
Lincoln was not afraid to bypass security and go out in public by himself. On at least two occasions before the assassination, John Wilkes Booth had been near enough to President Lincoln to kill him, yet he waited until the night of the stage production.
After the assassination, Booth was able to escape from Washington D.C. and go into hiding. A search party was sent out with instructions not to harm Booth but to take him into custody for questioning about the other conspirators who helped him.
The soldiers located him in a tobacco barn on a Virginia farm. When Booth refused to come out, the soldiers set fire to the barn. Booth still hesitated to surrender, so a man in the crowd, Boston Corbett, ignored orders and fired his gun into the barn.
"He shot Booth, hit him in the back of the neck, severed his spine besides that, the fire is going and they have to rush in to get him out," Jenot said.
Booth was snatched from the flames and carried into the farm house. Paralyzed and mortally wounded, he died without giving any information. His only request was for his mother to know he died for his "country," the Confederacy.
"The things that happened, just little things, that could've changed that night He could have missed that play that night," Jenot said. "There were some really crazy things that I find so unusual about that."
Jenot is amazed at what Lincoln was able to accomplish before his death. The former teacher said he would like to see some Lincoln-style leadership in the contemporary White House.