February 28, 2011

All Abe, All The Time

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Charlie Finecy has been seriously growing his whiskers for the last six months. The Spencer County, Ind., native is transforming himself into Abraham Lincoln. Finecy is no ordinary Lincoln groupie.

As director of the Rockport Lincoln Pioneer Village, Finecy has a long history with Lincoln and sees this new look as part of his homage to the 16th president. While the 5-foot-10-inch Finecy lacks Lincoln's height, he certainly shares a goodly portion of Lincoln's determination.

By age 4, Finecy had often accompanied family members to the national park site at Lincoln City, Ind. Finecy's grandfather Charles Ludwig was a carpenter at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial. Finecy grew up a mile and a half from the site of Lincoln's family farm. Ludwig was a descendant of the Grigsby family into which Lincoln's sister, Sarah, married. The Lincoln family moved to Indiana from Kentucky in 1816 when Lincoln was 7, and he moved to Illinois in 1830.

By the age of 7, Finecy was enthralled with the Lincoln legacy and knew he wanted to work in the history field. During his early teen years, he worked in a costume of pioneer clothing at the Living Farm. Finecy demonstrated different aspects of pioneer life, including spinning and carding of wool, using Lincoln-era tools, and caring for plants and animals.

Finecy's aunt Carol Edwards was one of the first rangers at the living historical farm.

"The Lincoln legacy and Spencer County connection has been an important part of our family," he said. "I would say that most members of my family have above-average knowledge of facts about Lincoln and his family."

At 16, Finecy joined the Spencer County Historical Society and was elected second vice president.

"The president at the time was the County Historian, and she passed away," Finecy said. "This is how I become the youngest county historian in Indiana at age 18." He served in that role for 31/2 years.

Now a graduate of Heritage Hills High School, Finecy moved out of the county for the first time, attending culinary school, working on an Ohio River boat and working briefly at the Farmington Mansion in Louisville. Farmington is the home of Joshua Speed, a lifelong Lincoln friend from Illinois who also worked in the Lincoln administration.

Finecy explained that part of the charm of this Southern mansion is that Lincoln stayed there for six weeks during his on-again off-again relationship with Kentucky belle Mary Todd, who would become his wife.

Moving back to Spencer County, Finecy got involved with the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. With several other Spencer County natives, Finecy participated in Lincoln's "Journey of Remembrance," a flatboat trip on the Mississippi to New Orleans. Though the flatboat trip began at Rockport, Finecy joined the crew at Memphis, Tenn.

"This was quite an experience, probably the coolest experience related to Lincoln history I've ever had," Finecy said.

After the flatboat trip, Finecy contemplated ways in which he could promote the Lincoln legacy in Spencer County. He was aware of the Rockport City Council's desire to promote the Rockport Lincoln Pioneer Village. Artist George Honig started the village in the 1930s and procured donated land, labor from the Works Progress Administration and support of the Spencer County Historical Society.

Today, Finecy is at the helm of a renewed effort and restoration of the village, located at the west end of Rockport's Main Street. The village celebrated its 75th anniversary last summer with several special events, including reenactments, and hosted more than 6,000 visitors in its first reopened season.

The village features numerous cabins and businesses that represent Lincoln's time. An adjacent museum is filled with county artifacts, including a wooden bureau built by Thomas Lincoln, Abraham's father.

"The story of Abraham Lincoln and his family in Southern Indiana is fairly well known," Finecy said.

"The village tells the story of his Spencer County neighbors. When you learn about his neighbors and the communities in which he was raised, you gain a deeper understanding about Lincoln's character and how his values were shaped."

During the winter, the village is closed, but Finecy finds means to spread the word about Spencer County's Lincoln legacy. He frequently talks with school groups and works on grants and is archiving treasures in the museum.

Last fall Finecy decided to slightly change his hair color and grow a beard similar to Lincoln's. During the village season, Finecy dresses in period clothing and often attends events as such.

Finecy, 31, said his favorite Lincoln quote is about appearance: "'Common-looking people are the best people in the world,' Lincoln said, 'and that is why the Good Lord made so many of them.'"

Finecy recently put his new look to good use, accompanying "Mary Todd Lincoln" to a Spencer County gala as Robert Todd Lincoln. Still young, Finecy cannot quite pull off Lincoln yet, but one suspects he will get there, whiskers and all.

Published in the Columbia City Post on Monday, February 21, 2011, and in the Evansville Courier, on Sunday, February 27, 2011.