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updated: 2/21/2014 2:38 PM

Moving Picture: Wheaton couple entertain as President, Mrs. Lincoln

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  • Video: Moving Picture: The Lincolns

  • Max Daniels and his wife, Donna, portray President and Mrs. Abe Lincoln.

       Max Daniels and his wife, Donna, portray President and Mrs. Abe Lincoln.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Max Daniels of Wheaton as President Abraham Lincoln.

       Max Daniels of Wheaton as President Abraham Lincoln.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Max and Donna Daniels of Wheaton portray President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln.

       Max and Donna Daniels of Wheaton portray President and Mrs. Abraham Lincoln.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Max and Donna Daniels portray President and Mrs. Lincoln early in their careers.

      Max and Donna Daniels portray President and Mrs. Lincoln early in their careers.
    Photo Courtesy Max and Donna Daniels

  • Max Daniels has a discussion and debate with Ken Kalinowski, left, portraying a confederate soldier in McGregor's Battery, as part of the Military History Fest in St. Charles.

       Max Daniels has a discussion and debate with Ken Kalinowski, left, portraying a confederate soldier in McGregor's Battery, as part of the Military History Fest in St. Charles.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Max Daniels talks with other re-enactors at the Military History Fest in St. Charles. "Max and I feel we're at the stage in our career where it's time for us to pay it back, to help new folks coming up the way we were helped," Donna said.

       Max Daniels talks with other re-enactors at the Military History Fest in St. Charles. "Max and I feel we're at the stage in our career where it's time for us to pay it back, to help new folks coming up the way we were helped," Donna said.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Max Daniels dressed as the 16th President of the United States.

       Max Daniels dressed as the 16th President of the United States.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 

What started as small roles in community theater has evolved into a full-time occupation portraying President and Mrs. Lincoln for Max and Donna Daniels.

The Wheaton couple began portraying our 16th president and his wife in 1987 and haven't stopped since.

They admit they were green in the early years, with much to learn about portraying their famous subjects, from little-known stories about the Lincolns to the importance of wearing historically accurate clothing.

But by taking advice from others and delving into history books, they've worked to perfect their craft -- so much so they've been portraying the Lincolns full-time since 1994 and now try to help others who are starting out.

"Max and I feel we're at the stage in our career where it's time for us to pay it back, to help new folks coming up the way we were helped," Donna said.

A turning point in their own careers, they say, came when schools started inviting them to talk about the Lincolns.

Those invitations forced the couple to dig even deeper into their subjects.

"The more we read, the more intriguing the man became," Max said.

He calls what they do "education through personalization," and they especially enjoy their visits to classrooms.

"I get a great reward when I see the eyes of children light with excitement," Max said.

The couple considers what they do acting, and hope to teach history in an entertaining way. They also like to share stories that don't always make it into the history books.

That includes the life of Mary Lincoln, whose reputation suffered through the years.

Donna belongs to a group called The Mary Lincoln Coterie, made up of women who portray the former first lady.

"We have all taken it as our mission to try and rehabilitate her reputation and show her in a more favorable light," she said.

When they return home from work, Max and Donna still find themselves surrounded by Lincoln, with paintings, books and other memorabilia they have collected over the years.

This year they plan to do about 180 events, including visits to schools, libraries and conventions. And although it was not historically accurate for President Lincoln to be at Civil War battles, the pair frequently are asked to appear at re-enactments and happily oblige.

Max said their greatest reward is when former students come up years later and say how much they remember the program.

"That to me is the Nobel Prize, for a student to remember you," he said. "It's those moments that really are to me the most rewarding."

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