Abraham Lincoln walks into a bar … but what does he order? According to NIU alumnus and local historian Clint Cargile, “Lincoln didn’t drink alcohol outside of the occasional toast or official function. So if Lincoln walked into a bar, he’d probably order his favorite drink … water.”
However, this Thursday, Feb. 21, visitors to the Prairie Street Brewing Co. in Rockford will choose from a wider selection of drinks at the kick-off event for WNIJ’s latest podcast, “Drinkin’ with Lincoln,” hosted by Cargile. The event will feature beer tastings, presidential trivia and a sneak preview of the podcast.
Cargile, who earned his master’s degree in history from NIU in 2014, says the idea for the “Drinkin’ with Lincoln” podcast came about because WNIJ wanted to do some new programming based on the unique history of northern Illinois. WNIJ, the NPR affiliate for the northern Illinois region, reached out to Cargile because he had written two local history books, including “Five Mile Spur Line: A Railroad History of Sycamore, Illinois,” which received an Illinois State Historical Society Certification of Excellence in 2014.
Cargile pitched several podcast ideas to the radio station. “One of them happened to be “Drinkin’ with Lincoln,” a podcast where I interview Lincoln impersonators over drinks,” he says. “At the meeting, everyone said, ‘That one. That’s the one.’”
“I’ve always loved Lincoln,” Cargile continues, “even before I moved to Illinois. I thought the podcast would be a good way to share some interesting Lincoln history while also learning about these individuals who have chosen such a unique profession.”
One of the first things Cargile learned when researching the podcast was that the professionals prefer not to be called impersonators.
“That just happens to be the term familiar to most people,” Cargile explains. “They actually like to be called presenters or portrayers.”
One of the presenters Cargile met along the way is Laura Keyes, a Mary Todd Lincoln performer and NIU alumna who will be portraying the first lady at the podcast kick-off event.
Keyes, who earned her B.A. degree in English at NIU before going on to earn her Master of Library Studies at the University of Wisconsin, has been giving Living History performances and historical lectures for ten years. In addition to Mary Lincoln, Keyes portrays a number of other historical figures, including Laura Ingalls Wilder and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Keyes first began portraying Mary Todd Lincoln in 2008 when the town of Freeport, Illinois, planned a celebration of the sesquicentennial of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. (Freeport was one of the original sites of the debates.) The local community theatre, Winneshiek Players, added a play to their season called “Mrs. Lincoln,” and Keyes was cast as Mrs. Lincoln.
“Being a dutiful research librarian, I started my research into the Lincoln family and learned a lot in a short amount of time,” Keyes says. “I quickly came to respect and even love Abraham and Mary Lincoln and their children. During the run of the play, the cast was interviewed twice, and two newspaper articles mentioned my role and the research I did in order to prepare. I very quickly received three phone calls from three different public libraries asking me to ‘come and give a talk’ on Mrs. Lincoln.” Keyes has been performing as Mary Lincoln ever since, helping to bring history alive for audiences of all ages.
Cargile and Keyes are both looking forward to the podcast kick-off event, which will also feature Abraham Lincoln performer Kevin Wood, who Cargile interviewed for the first episode of the “Drinkin’ with Lincoln” podcast.
“I enjoy working with Kevin, as he is as attentive to historical accuracy as I am and has spent many hours investigating the minutia of some of Mr. Lincoln’s speeches,” says Keyes.
Of the podcast, Cargile says, “Listeners might be surprised that we actually pack a lot of Lincoln history into each episode. I like getting to know the presenters, but I use their stories (and their obvious love of Lincoln) to get to know the 16th president, too.” The podcast will be available starting Tuesday, Feb. 19, on wnij.org and soon wherever you get your podcasts.
The podcast kick-off celebration will take place on Thursday, Feb. 21, from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at Prairie Street Brewing Co. (200 Prairie St., Rockford, Illinois 61107). Tickets are free, with food and drinks for sale from Prairie Street Brewing Co.
To register for your free ticket to the kick-off event, visit wnij.org.