A living historian, who has become a living legend as a presenter, has retired. Jim Sayre, Kentucky’s Chautauqua official Lincoln, offered his last performance for the organization. The Kentucky Humanities Council recognized his 10 years of service to the cause of bringing history alive.
Some of his highlights of his tenure for the KY Humanities Council include performing at the John F. Kennedy Center for the performing Arts in Washington, D.C. He has performed 490 programs across Kentucky for the Kentucky Humanities Council. He has performed in 99 of the 120 counties in Kentucky. He has presented at 22 libraries and 195 schools. Close to 70,000 people have seen his performance, while serving as a Chautauqua member. He has portrayed Lincoln in the Mariana Islands.
Keeping all these events in mind, they pale in comparison to his performances at reenactments, speaking engagements prior to joining the Kentucky Humanities.
Jim has portrayed Abraham Lincoln for numerous years. His persona is one based on all aspects of the 16th president’s life. He offered the audience an opportunity to hear Lincoln’s words, his struggles, successes and ultimately revealed that Lincoln was a man who made errors, but finally realized his destiny; as evident in his second inaugural speech. Jim Sayre offered a gentlemanly persona in and out of his period ensemble.
Mrs. Joan Howard (the persona of Mrs. Jefferson Davis and a member of the Lincoln Presenters) reflects upon her years with Jim and his lovely wife (portrayed Mrs. Lincoln):
“Quite by accident my husband, Cliff, and I started portraying Abe and Mary Lincoln in 1985. Cliff had taught Civil War history for years but had not studied ‘Lincoln’ in depth. The first couple we met interested in presenting our country’s history through first person interpretation was Jim and Mary Sayre. Jim had already been doing presentations for approximately three years and was kind enough to take us under his wing.
“When Cliff started looking at Lincoln and Davis documents together, he found similarities between the two men. They seemed to answer each other in letters, speeches, articles, etc. He also found that they were almost in the same place on several occasions throughout their lives. Cliff put together a ‘Lincoln Davis Debate’ to be given between the two men face-to-face. Jim had consulted with Cliff all the way through this process and when it came time to find someone to portray the Union president, Jim was the logical choice. Since Cliff resembled the older Davis, he would portray the Confederate president. Thus another ‘presidential’ friendship was formed.
“The four of us have spent about 14 years doing the ‘Lincoln Davis Debate’ for audiences in many parts of our country. Jim and Cliff developed a friendship that entailed respect, understanding and honor for each other. Cliff would call ‘Sir James’ frequently with another tidbit he had found in a new book he had recently acquired. This would prompt the next meeting between the two friends in order to discuss how to put this information into their presentations.
“When Cliff died, Jim and Mary were the first two people we called after notifying the family. Cliff had wanted Jim to have a role at his funeral and Jim graciously accepted. They have been a tremendous source of strength for me since that difficult moment.
“When you have a friend this special, it is easy to understand why Jefferson Davis truly appreciated his friends throughout his life.
“It is interesting how two Kentucky born presidents could bring two Kentucky born gentlemen together one hundred twenty years after our country’s greatest conflict. My wish for anyone reading this beautiful book is that you have a friend as dear as Jim and Mary Sayre have been to us.
“Fondly, Joan Howard.”
His book entitled, “The Great Pretender,” exemplifies his service in preserving our American history and legacy. We felt it the perfect title for a man who walked in the shadow of the 16th president for all those years.
Our friend, you will be missed but we wish you the best in your new adventures. Memories of The Great Pretender can be found at the following address: “Amazon books, Jim Sayre.”
-By David Chaltas and Joan Howard