05/08/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
Only two score and nine Abe Lincolns have shown up at the Hodgenville (Ky.) Women's Club, but that's more than enough to cause chaos when it comes time to retrieve the 49 stovepipe hats. Piled atop a grand piano, they all look alike. Of course, so do their owners, all members of the Association of Lincoln Presenters, gathered for their annual convention near the town where the 16th President was born. "It's like looking in a mirror all weekend," says Daniel Bassuk, 61, a retired University of South Florida literature professor who started the association in 1990 to, as he puts it, "link the Lincolns." An Abe impersonator for 10 years, he adds, "I heard about other guys doing what I do and thought, 'This is a lonely way to go about it. It would be wonderful for us to get together.' "
And get together they do. Every April about one-third of the 153 members—who earn from $400 to $750 for appearances at schools, museums, parades and Civil War reenactments—meet in Lincoln-related locales. They stage mock debates, mingle with Mary Todd impersonators (usually members' wives) and "exchange trade secrets," says Bassuk—such as what to do when a youngster gets overly curious. "When a kid grabs my beard," says Bassuk, "I grab hold of his hair. It doesn't take long for him to get the idea."