The Cadoma Foundation in Casper invites President Abraham Lincoln to speak
The Bishop House in Casper is one of the many historic buildings that The Cadoma Foundation works to preserve. A man of historical preservation himself, John Voehl sees a unique value in the 16th President. Bringing two elements of living history together, the Cadoma Foundation has asked Voehl to perform on the topic of Lincoln and Wyoming. Voehl has performed as Lincoln for 27 years and sometimes refers to himself in the third person to avoid any confusion between his opinions and Lincoln’s.
“I'll be presenting the ingredients that Lincoln contributes, that make and create Wyoming, and give it many of its wonderful characteristics it has today,” he said.
The top-hat president, famous for his time presiding over the Civil War, did not live to see Wyoming become a state, though Voehl said that Lincoln had expressed a desire to travel west.
“Part of Lincoln's conversations on the last day he was alive is that he wanted to travel out to the Colorado and California gold and silver mines, which he asserted were gonna help the Treasury recover from the terrible war debt and replenish the Treasury,” Voehl said.
Had the President lived through his second term, there’s a possibility he may have traveled through Wyoming, or as it was known in Lincoln’s time, the Nebraska Territory. One of the only ways Lincoln would have been able to reach Wyoming is through the railroad, one of the major topics Voehl will be speaking about.
“I think that he would love to see a place like Wyoming, which, in John's perspective, was created by the railroad,” he said.
Speaking confidently as Lincoln himself does not come easy. Voehl has been performing as Mr. President since 1996, developing both his knowledge of the President as well as his on-stage interpretation. But after speaking in all 50 states, with 90 different presentation themes, and having performed for a range of organizations such as the Social Security Administration, the US History Museum, and the National Coal Transportation Association, Voehl knows his topics well.
“Teaching the public about him and the many facets of his life is a great privilege. And I think a great service to the public,” he said..
Something Voehl looks forward to teaching about during his performance in Casper will be the Land Grant Act, another ingredient behind the creation of Wyoming. This one is just as important as the proliferation of rail, Voehl explained.
“The Land Grant Act says that states can take public lands and sell those lands to get funds to start agricultural and mechanical colleges and universities,” he said. “And this is how the University of Wyoming at Laramie gets started, because of this legislation that Lincoln signed.”
Legislation from Lincoln’s time later gave people like Marvin L. Bishop, a historical figure in Casper and the first owner of the Bishop Home, the ability to move west and set down roots. During the late 1800s, Bishop would be one of many Westerners to utilize a 3rd Lincoln-Wyoming ingredient, the Homestead Act.
“One of [the ingredients] is the Homestead Act, which gave poor people the opportunity to come west to land that had never been lived on by any White people, only Native Americans, and to, for a token amount, improve that and live on that land and become a landowner,” Voehl said.
Playing such a pivotal character from American history is, in Voehl’s words, “fantastic,” and Voehl has encountered many questions and conversations that have helped him understand his relation to Lincoln more. This includes learning to express some of the more controversial sides of Lincoln's Presidency. When speaking about Wyoming or the Civil War, Voehl does not hesitate to criticize Lincoln.
“We might look back on Lincoln and say, you know, you really did an awesome job during the Civil War. When it came to reconstruction, you know, I don't know, maybe he could have done a better job,” said Voehl. “But Lincoln is exempt from that because his life was taken at the precipice of continuing to reconstruction.”
While Voehl does his best to present a pure form of the 16th President to audiences, Voehl also realizes his own bias and perceptions within his presentation.
“I get questions about, you know, ‘What would Lincoln say about today's Republican party?’ or something like that. And I've discovered that John is not any better at perceiving Lincoln than a multitude of politicians who tried to leverage Lincoln's stand on this issue,” said Voehl. “Anyone, no matter what their position is, you know, whether it's grabbing a verse out of the Bible or grabbing some element of Lincoln to support what you want to say, John's not been able to rise above that. So I don't try to dally in it too much. And I recognize that I have the same shortcomings as what I see in other people.”
To see John Voehl and his Wife Pamela Voehl play Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln at the Bishop Home in Casper, Wyoming, visit theCadoma Foundation’s website for information about the performance on August 19th.