First person Historical presenter Valerie Gugala has been studying Abraham and Mary Lincoln for as long as she can remember. When she was a small child, she could recite The Gettysburg Address from memory. She made essential corrections to the film “The Trails of Lincoln” after listening to an audiotape of the soundtrack. Her parents took her on a visit to Springfield, Illinois and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, and on that trip bought her a Lincoln biography that has become the centerpiece of a large Lincoln collection, including books, audio & video tapes, statues, nick-knacks, and even a portrait made out of a maple leaf.
As a teen and young adult, Valerie continued her interest in the Lincolns, focusing on Abraham. It wasn’t until she read the book “Mary Todd Lincoln: Her Life and Letters” by Linda & Justin Turner that she became more interested in Mary. She began to study her in earnest, & realized that something had to be done to set the historical record straight.
During a visit to New Salem State Park in the mid 1990’s, Valerie and her family had a chance encounter with a man who traveled the country portraying Abraham Lincoln. He encouraged Valerie join the Association of Lincoln Presenters as a Mary Lincoln presenter, which she did. She has been portraying Mary ever since.
Valerie has performed in front of schools, churches, senior groups and park districts throughout the Chicago area. She has spent 40+ years researching the Lincoln family, and has been performing as Mrs. Lincoln for more than 15. She has an extensive collection of books on the Lincoln family, with special emphasis on Mrs. Lincoln and their Springfield years. She has done primary source research at the Chicago Historical Society, the Illinois State Historical Library, and the Batavia Depot Museum, among other places & has used these family letters, court documents, and period newspapers to write her performance outlines.
As one of the founders of Mary Lincoln’s Coterie, a group devoted to the memory of Mary Lincoln, she has helped to organize weekends of events in Springfield to commemorate the anniversary of Mary Lincoln’s death. During the 2009, 2010, and 2011 weekends Valerie was honored to deliver the eulogy during the memorial and wreath laying at the Lincoln Tomb. From 2012 to the present she has served as the memorial ceremony planner and host.
In 2009, Valerie was invited to speak to the volunteers of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum on the subject “Mary Lincoln as a Mother”, and in 2011 & 2013 she was honored to present her program “Divided: Mary Lincoln and Emilie Todd Helm” at the Lincoln Home National Park Visitors Center. Valerie is a member of the Association of Lincoln Presenters, and she was nominated by them as the “Best Mary Lincoln Presenter” in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, she was nominated for the “Best Lincoln Team” award along side her acting partner.
Valerie resides in Bartlett, Illinois with her husband Brian, son Steven, and their cats Rajah & Jasmine. Besides her work as Mary Lincoln, she appears on stage throughout the Chicago area as part of the acting troupe of “The Mystery Shop” a traveling interactive murder mystery theatre company. Valerie also serves as The Mystery Shop’s Social Media Director.