Tall task portraying Abraham Lincoln at Tech
BLACKSBURG — It’s not uncommon to see a tall, thin man with a full beard walking across Virginia Tech’s campus dressed as Abraham Lincoln waving to students and stopping for a picture or two.
In fact, Lincoln’s look-a-likes have been awfully busy this past year.
The former U.S. president — whether he was hunting vampires or trying to save the country — has been busy at the box office. But for one Lincoln impersonator, his acting career is just getting started.
Newport resident Chris Elledge, 43, is a systems administrator for the Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library System and a ’92 Tech graduate. He also shares a striking resemblance to the 16th president of the United States. Oddly enough, he’s the exact same height as Lincoln at 6-foot-4.
Because of his stature and heavy facial hair, Elledge was asked to impersonate Lincoln for the Christiansburg library’s celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday in 2009.
But Elledge’s night as Lincoln was just that — one night.
Now it comes full circle for Elledge as the Lincoln impersonator and mini-celebrity at Tech.
This year, Tech is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which Lincoln signed into federal law. The act established land-grant colleges and universities in the United States and helped bring higher education to small, rural towns such as Blacksburg.
To celebrate the anniversary, the Newman Library is hosting a historical lecture series and has had several historical exhibits already this year. Elledge, playing the part of Lincoln, introduces speakers at the lectures and makes public appearances to help promote Tech’s Lincoln-related events happening on campus this year.
Laura Purcell, former communications coordinator for Tech’s University Libraries, learned of Elledge’s performance at the library as Lincoln, and approached him to fill the Tech role.
“Chris does a really excellent job as Lincoln,” Purcell said. “He has a fantastic sense of humor, answers questions honestly and had a great rapport with students. We were so fortunate that he was willing to support Virginia Tech’s Morrill Act anniversary. … It was a great way to remind people that as a president, Abraham Lincoln was more than just the Civil War.”
Elledge admits that he’s anything but an expert on Lincoln. He told his new Tech employer that he didn’t have a lot of facts memorized about Lincoln but would definitely be the guy in the room that looked the most like Lincoln.
However, Elledge has drawn from his travel experiences when he visited the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park in Kentucky, the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Indiana and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Illinois.
Elledge has also taken some time to brush up on Lincoln facts, especially those relevant to Tech’s Lincoln events on campus. He also memorized trivia because he would often be quizzed by school children.
“There are folks out there who really know their Lincoln,” he said. “I’ve been totally impressed with a few individuals I’ve met. Humiliated by my level of knowledge, but impressed nonetheless.”
Elledge said he has enjoyed the fame.
While visiting Tech’s National Capital Region campus in Fairfax, some Tech staffers took him to the Lincoln Memorial for a few publicity shots.
“I was afraid that there would be a perception of disrespect or that I was trying to sell something, but the reception there was phenomenal,” Elledge said.
Elledge said a large crowd gathered for photos with him at the Lincoln Memorial.
But what has surprised Elledge the most are the college students he encounters daily. There have been many thumbs up, honks from passing cars and both positive and outgoing comments.
For this reason, Elledge has had to add extra walking time when headed to an event on campus.
“I can’t tell you how many students stopped Abe for a cellphone photo,” Elledge said.
“I’m sure Abe is all over Facebook.”
For more information about Tech and its land-grant history, visit www.vt.edu/landgrant.
The Roanoke Times | 381-8627
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