It’s been awhile since President Abraham Lincoln has sat down for an interview with the media.
But in the lead up to the 150th anniversary of his assassination, the 16th president sat down with “Power Players”– well, sort of—for a rare exclusive interview in his White House office.
“I call it my shop,” professional Lincoln impersonator Fritz Klein said during an in-character interview at a White House Historical Association exhibit that aims to recreate Lincoln’s office as it looked when he inhabited the White House in the 1860s.
“This room is the center of life, it seems,” Klein said, posing as Lincoln. “I get my hair cut in here. I get shaved in here. I get the mail in here. I get briefed on the previous day’s occurrences. The public attends to their personal requests in here … My secretaries are right across the hall, and they come in at all hours, no matter what I'm doing, with notices from this or that general, and so, it's a hub of activity.”
The White House room that was formerly Lincoln's office is today the Lincoln bedroom. It's located on the second floor of the White House and is part of the first family's private residence.
The exhibit was designed based on a sketch that depicted President Lincoln and his cabinet posed in his office for the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863. It’s a day our fake Lincoln recalls with great pride, saying “I've never done anything that I was more certain was right.”
“We had a public reception as everybody does on New Year's Day, and I spent at least two hours shaking hands with the public. Well, my hand was nearly crippled by the time I returned to sign the document,” Klein said. “And I had to massage it and again wait nearly 30 minutes before I could do so, because I was convinced, if I signed that document in a way that looked irregular, some day, when people … look at it and they would say 'Look, he hesitated.' But once my hand was in better shape, I signed it.”
The exhibit includes life-size cutouts of President Lincoln and his cabinet, as well as props used in the making of the DreamWorks film “Lincoln,” so as to give visitors an immersive impression of what Lincoln’s office looked like. And, of course, a precise depiction of Lincoln’s office would not be complete if it did not capture certain aspects of the not-so-tidy president. Accordingly, books and papers are strewn across the desk and floor.
“I've been accused of being unorganized, but anybody who knows me knows that that's absolutely true,” Klein said jokingly, with a smile characteristic of Lincoln.
“I generally walk around while various members of the cabinet are talking. Tad may burst in at any moment, much to the chagrin of my friends here,” he continued. “At the end, I am compelled to sum up everything … and occasionally decisions are made as a group. Generally I make them, though."
On the topic of his signature style and dress -- complete with a beard and top hat -- Lincoln explained that his hat serves a dual purpose by both protecting his head from the elements and also acting as a casual filing system of sorts.
“There's some portions of speeches, sometimes I receive notes that need to be attended to and I'll pop them in her,” Lincoln said, gesturing at the contents held within the inside rim of his hat. “Most of my clothes, including my hat, I purchase at Brooks Brothers.”
And on his distinctive beard, Lincoln explained how the whiskers came to be.
“I sprouted it because when I was running for president, I had a letter from a little lady out in western New York who thought I would look a good deal better with whiskers,” Lincoln explained. “I don't know quite what to say when somebody tells you would look better if your face was all covered in hair but nonetheless. But I grew them, partly on her advice. And some people have said they agreed with her.”
For more of the interview with Lincoln impersonator Fritz Klein, and to learn more about the exhibit that is open now through the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, check out this episode of “Power Players.”
ABC News’ Ali Dukakis, Gary Westphalen, Tom Thornton, Wayne Boyd, and Gary Rosenberg contributed to this episode.