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Lincoln re-enactor Jim Getty dies

Written by Flint McColgan, York Daily Record | Sep 28, 2015 10:55 AM
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Jim Getty was well known for his work as a Lincoln impersonator. (File, York Daily Record)

James A. Getty, the man who has portrayed Abraham Lincoln full-time for nearly 40 years, died Saturday night at 83 years old.

Chuck Getty said his father, beset by numerous health issues, hadn't performed as Lincoln since April and was recently admitted into Genesis HealthCare's Gettysburg Center for skilled care.

Born in central Illinois, "the land of Lincoln," Getty went on to be a school teacher in Sandusky, Ohio, before moving to Gettysburg with his family in 1977 to portray Lincoln as a full-time career.

There, Chuck Getty said, the news of his death spread quickly.

"There was nobody like him. Everybody loved him, he didn't have an enemy," said daughter Diane Good. "He's going to be so missed."

What amazed both son and daughter was that he was so passionate about his work that even in declining health he drove all the way to Charlottesville, Va., for his final performance.

Chuck Getty described his father's work not as a job, but as "pure joy."

"That was probably the most difficult thing he had to deal with," Chuck Getty said. "He couldn't perform anymore."

It was the breadth of knowledge James Getty possessed on America's 16th president, Good said, that made him such an effective impersonator.

"My favorite part of his shows were the questions and answers," she said. "He was asked so many questions but he was never stumped."

Chuck Getty said his father was once asked a question about Lincoln's second inaugural address and, without breaking character, not only answered the question but recited the entire address.

"He must have memorized it at some point even though the address was never part of his act," he said.

The academic side of the role was rewarded in November when Getty was presented with the Richard Nelson Current Award from the Lincoln Forum. Past recipients include "The Civil War" documentarian Ken Burns and "Lincoln" screenwriter and playwright Tony Kushner.

But to his wife, Joanne, the work was not just a teaching tool, but a transformative one. She said that where some youths would be living lives down a certain path, James Getty's bringing history alive was able to instill something that inspired them to change course for the better.

"They wouldn't like history but once they heard him they just delved into history," Good said. "Everything he touched turned to gold."

James Getty leaves behind a wife, four children, grandchildren and some great grandchildren.

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This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF. 

Published in Adams County, News

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