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Lincoln impersonator got start by accident

Rick Miller, an Abraham Lincoln impersonator, poses for photographs after a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address last November.

Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, 3:42 p.m.

Rick Miller of Cranberry grabbed global notice for pretending to be an American idol.

His animated image - distributed by Associated Press - appeared in newspapers around the world after Miller jubilantly impersonated Abraham Lincoln at the 150th-anniversary celebration of the late president's Gettysburg Address.

The picture shows Miller as Lincoln making “jazz hands,” as Miller describes the look.

“It's completely out of character for anybody in the 1800s to do that,” Miller said. “Whenever a photographer sees Abe Lincoln doing ‘jazz hands,' it's like catnip. That's an image they want to capture.”

Photographer Matt Rourke snapped the photo Nov. 19 at Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Adams County.

“I was on the cover of USA Today. I also made the London newspaper. ... That was really good for business,” said the 6-foot-2-inch, 180-pound Miller, 64.

A member of the Association of Lincoln Presenters, Miller portrays Abraham Lincoln 30 to 40 times a year - at parades, fairs and other events - for $50 to $300 per appearance.

Miller, a 1967 Shaler High School graduate and classmate of Gov. Tom Corbett, will talk about Lincoln's life, Lincoln's Civil War-era challenges, and Lincoln's wife Mary at 7 p.m. on Feb. 6 in the Northern Tier Regional Library in Richland.

“Tell people to bring their questions about Mr. Lincoln. ... I like to make my audiences drive my show,” Miller said. “Basically, what I do is pretend that Lincoln survives his assassination, so you can have a conversation with Lincoln - sort of like Mel Brooks and the ‘2,000-Year-Old Man.'

“Lincoln really was a jovial, fun-loving' guy,” Miller said. “He used humor especially to illustrate ideas. ... He used humor to diffuse people who would otherwise be at each other's throats.”

What do people often ask Abe?

“Was Mrs. Lincoln really nuts?” Miller replied.

How does Miller know so much about the beloved president?

“There are more books about him than any other American. There are 15,000 at this point,” Miller said. “I read constantly about Lincoln.”

A single father, Miller is a one-time federal mine inspector with a bachelor's degree in geology from Penn State University.

When he isn't portraying Lincoln, Miller teaches yoga at a number of north suburban Pittsburgh sites, including Pure Athletex in Bradford Woods, the Baierl Family YMCA in Franklin Park, the Marshall Township Municipal Building; and Treesdale Commons Community Center in Pine.

“I've been doing Lincoln about 20 years,” said Miller, a member of Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church.

A school teacher's request first inspired Miller to portray Lincoln.

“Every year at Thanksgiving, I would grow a full beard, complete with mustache, and then leave it on until the springtime,” Miller said. “One January, I shaved off my mustache - on a lark - and went to my church home group.

“One of the ladies there was a fourth-grade teacher. She said, ‘Rick, you look like Lincoln. Would you come and visit my fourth-graders on his birthday?' “

“OK. I've got a top hat. I can do that,” Miller told the teacher.

“That's how a lot of ‘Lincolns' get started,” Miller said. “People will comment on their resemblance to Mr. Lincoln.”

Reservations are requested for Miller's program at the library, which is at 4015 Dickey Road. For information, call 724-449-2665.

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