What's love got to do with it? A Presidents Day celebration at the
Chicago Historical Society will try to answer that question by
exploring the private lives of John and Jacqueline Kennedy, Abraham
and Mary Todd Lincoln, and their legacies.
Abe look-alike Michael Krebs, as Lincoln, will be accompanied by
Debra Miller coiffed and dressed to resemble his spouse. The
Lincolns couldn't have been more different.
"He lived in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, bounced around from
state to state with his father and had less than a year of formal
education and she grew up in an affluent home with servants and was
able to go to school for eight years, which was unheard of for women
in that day," explains Miller.
During the hour-long presentation that explores their relationship,
the two actors reveal that Abe and Mary did, however, have one sad
experience in common.
"He lost his mother when he was 9 and she lost her mother when she
was 6," explains Miller, "so they shared the same feeling of
abandonment and fear of abandonment."
The title "First Lady" originated with Mary, who took on the task of
renovating the White House.
"She saw the executive mansion as a place for dignitaries to meet
and thought it should be well appointed, but she overspent the
budget by $1,500," explains Krebs. "Abe said, `I won't have soldiers
sleeping in the fields with no blankets to furnish flub-dubs for
this old house' and he made up the difference himself."
William and Sue Wills are easily recognizable as Jack and Jackie
"I have a few of Jack's little mannerisms like the way he leaned
slightly forward because of his back problem and the little smile he
had just before giving a nice one-liner at a press conference," says
William Wills, "and Sue wears the trademark pillbox hat and a suit
like Jackie wore and she has her wispy voice."
The presentations are separate, but the lives of the Lincolns and
the Kennedys intersected in a variety of ways.
"JFK tried to model his speeches after Lincoln's and Jackie was the
first to redo the White House 100 years after Mary redid it," says
Miller. "Both couples lost children and Mary and Jackie lost their
husbands and were adrift afterwards because the country couldn't
deal with the grief and so they both went to Europe to escape the
pain and scrutiny."
The relationship between Abe and Mary and between JFK and Jackie may
have had a common element, too.
"The Lincolns loved each other fiercely," says Miller, while Krebs
points out, "I think Jack and Jackie's relationship was getting
stronger in 1960 because they were brought together by so many
personal tragedies and it seemed like Jack was maturing and
mellowing." Miller concludes, "These were vulnerable, fallible
people, not icons on a shelf."