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Keeping Lincoln’s history alive despite flunking social studies

Turns out Abraham Lincoln never liked social studies.

At least, the man in the antique long jacket and top hat reciting the Gettysburg Address in Buffalo on Sunday didn’t.

“I never ever thought I would end up using Lincoln knowledge. I didn’t like being called Lincoln when I was younger,” said David Kreutz. “Between you and me, I failed social studies.”

But he more than made up for that Sunday with his presentation of Abraham Lincoln at the Buffalo History Museum, where tradition and history continued as Buffalo saluted the 16th president for the 121st year. It is the longest-running observance of Lincoln anywhere, said Carl Modica, president of the Buffalo Civil War Round Table, which has organized the event for more than 25 years.

“President Lincoln was our greatest president, because his entire presidency, other than a few days, encompassed Civil War,” Modica said. “But he kept the country together.”

Kreutz repeated some of Lincoln’s most famous words, including this from his first inauguration address: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”

He went on to the second inaugural speech: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

And he recited the Gettysburg Address, which ends with: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

Civil War re-enactors performed a rifle salute on the museum portico, the odor of gun powder blown away by the wind after each shot.

Afterward, the president, his wife and his generals posed amiably for photos with those who used cellphones to document their brush with history.

Kreutz, retired from American Axle after 39 years with the company, has been portraying Lincoln for about 20 years. He is one of 186 members of the Association of Lincoln Presenters.

The group has annual conventions, and is the subject of a movie, “Being Lincoln – Men with Hats.”

Lincoln and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, also known as Ed Brodbeck, chatted with visitors as they ate pieces of birthday cake from Wegmans.

“When I first started out, I never had to dye the beard,” Lincoln said, as Grant nodded in agreement.

The two visit schools and attend historical programs. Brodbeck said he sometimes portrays Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in addition to Grant.

Kreutz wears a coat made in 1904 for a Buffalo attorney, and carries a century-old pair of wire frame glasses in one of its pockets. He can’t envision Lincoln in this year’s Republican presidential primary, but he pulls out an oversize $5 bill for one photo-op.

“Primary? I wouldn’t even want to venture on that, because today, everything is all based on financial. Lincoln was a poor farmer from Hodgenville, Ky.,” he said.

And what would the 16th president drive? Well this one drives a Lincoln Mark 8, of course. It is covered in replicas of 2009 pennies that commemorated Lincoln’s 200th birthday.

And the license plate reads “HNST ABE.”