Program descriptions

All of the lectures listed below can be presented either in person or via zoom, and all are accompanied by a Power Point Presentation. I also include a Q&A session at the end of each lecture. Most of the lectures are 2 hours long, but can be customized to be shorter (or longer) depending upon your needs.

Here are  programs that I currently offer:

A Visit with Mrs. Lincoln (1st Person Presentation)

Mary Lincoln comes to life as presented by Valerie Gugala.  She sets the historical record straight as she takes listeners through her life as a young woman born into a wealthy Lexington, KY family, and the transformation she made from that life to become the wife of a young man whose background was just the opposite. Mrs. Lincoln takes the audience through the Lincoln family’s life in Springfield, Abraham’s political career and election to the presidency, and their life in the White House during the Civil War. Time for questions from the audience for Mrs. Lincoln is included in this 1 ½ hour program. (Because this is a 1st person program, there is no Power Point presentation that accompanies it)


Out of Character Lectures

All lectures include a Q&A session, and have a companion power point presentation.

All lectures can be presented remotely via zoom or other virtual platform

The Lincoln Family

Here I have Lived: A virtual Tour thorough Lincoln’s life & the places he lived

A power point presentation about Lincoln’s life, focusing on the places that he lived and the people he met. Can be broken into shorter segments about the Kentucky & Indiana years, the Illinois Years, or the War years. Locations are shown as they were and as they are now in drawings and photographs.

She Could Make a Bishop Forget His Prayers: The Life of Mary Lincoln

Mary Lincoln is America’s most controversial First Lady, and there are many half truths and outright lies about her life. This lecture will set the record straight and give you a better understanding of the complex woman who was Abraham Lincoln’s wife. Her childhood, married life, time as First Lady, and her widowhood will be discussed, along with her enduring legacy.

The Lincoln Family after 1865

What happened to Mary Lincoln and her sons after Abraham’s murder? This question and many other are answered in this presentation. Mary’s travels and insanity trial are discussed, along with Robert’s law career and family life in Chicago. 

Losing the Light: The night Mary Lost Abraham

Power point presentation covering the events of  the night of April 14-15, 1865. How did Mary, Robert & Tad react to Abraham’s murder? Who was with them? What did they and others  later write about it? all this and more will be covered.

Who were the Lincoln Children?

A PowerPoint focusing on the lives of the 4 Lincoln boys. Their early lives, schooling (or lack thereof), relationship with their parents, and more are discussed.

Mary Lincoln as a Mother

Mary Lincoln’s relationship with her children is explored in this program. Springfield neighbor’s recollections and Mary’s own words are used to show how she viewed marriage and motherhood, and how she dealt with her grief at the death of her sons.

Abraham and Mary Lincoln in Popular Media

How have the Lincolns been portrayed over the years in feature films and on television? This lecture explores the films and TV shows that have presented the Lincolns, from “Birth of a Nation” to Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. How accurate are they, and how do they reflect the times in which they were made?

“To Think that My Son Could do this to Me!” Was Mary Lincoln Insane?

This is the question that audiences ask any time Valerie performs or speaks about Mrs. Lincoln. In this lecture and PowerPoint, Valerie explains what has become known as the “insanity episode”. Who decided that Mary should be declared insane? What did her family think? Was she actually insane, or was she a misdiagnosed and over medicated victim? Hear the facts of the case and make your own decisions about this much maligned first lady.

Presidential History

President Who? Lesser Known Presidents in American History

Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Kennedy. These are familiar names to most Americans. But have you heard of Millard Filmore, Chester A. Arthur, or Benjamin Harrison? These and other lesser known Presidents will be discussed in this 2 hour PowerPoint presentation. We will discuss who these men were, how they became President, and what they did once they had achieved that office. We will also  touch on their wives and families, and their life after the Presidency.

Who is Buried in Grants Tomb? Presidential gravesites

Its an old joke, “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?” Do you know the answer? You will after this lecture. We will virtually tour to the graves of the 39 Presidents who have died, and talk about their markers, burial spots, and more.

Children in the White House: The lives of America’s “1st kids”

What is it like to be the child of the United States President? In this lecture we will find out. Some Presidential kids were already grown when their father was elected, and others were small children. Some  were happy & excited to move into the White House, others were not. Starting with George Washington’s stepchildren we will discuss what their life was like before, during and after their father’s term of office.

The Victorian Era

Spiritualism & Mourning in Victorian America

The Victorian era is remembered for elaborate rituals around death and mourning. Strict social rules governed the behavior of the bereaved. Alongside this, spiritualists and mediums offered hope of contact with those who had passed on. We will learn what was required of a newly bereaved family,  and talk about the ways Victorians attempted to contact the dead.

Call the Doctor! Victorian Medical Practices

Victorians treated sickness and injury very differently then we do today. They mostly relied on home remedies, natural cures, and prayer. In this lecture we will discuss the various remedies for disease, some that worked and some that did not. We will also talk about treatments prescribed by doctors such as bleeding and purging and touch on how Civil War doctors treated battlefield injuries.

“I do!” Victorian Wedding Traditions

Why do brides wear white? Why is a engagement ring a required purchase? These and other questions will be answered in this lecture. We will learn where our traditions have come from, and how many wedding traditions today are the result of Victorian culture

Other Topics in American History


The Monuments of Washington DC

Washington D.C. is full of monuments to people, groups, and events. Some, like the Lincoln Memorial, are world famous. Others are less well known & a few others are almost unknown. In this lecture we will tour Washington D.C. virtually and learn about many of the monuments. We will talk about why each monument was built, who it honors and other facts about them.

Walt Disney & the Florida Theme Parks

The Life of Walt Disney

Walt Disney was a visionary in the entertainment world. He created amazing animated films, beloved animated characters, and a new type of vacation destination. The public saw him as the father of Mickey Mouse and his friends, and called him “Uncle Walt”. But who was the “man behind the mouse”? In this 2 hour power point presentation, we will examine Walt’s life story and learn what made him the man he was, and about all his wonderful creations.

When You Wish Upon a Star: The History & Films of Walt Disney Studios

Walt Disney famously said, “I hope we never forget that it all started with a mouse”, but did it? In this lecture we will discuss the history of Walt Disney Studios, & talk about many of the films they have produced over the years. Some were instant classics, and less so. Which are your favorites?

Adventure is Out There! The History & Films of Pixar Studios

PIxar Studios has produced some of the most successful animated films in recent memory. How did this studio get started, and what has helped them achieve their success? We will discuss Pixar’s history and look at each of their films, including Toy Story, Up, Monsters, Inc. and their newest films Soul & Luca.

Building the Magic: Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

In the late 1960s, Disney acquired 25,000 acres of swampland in Florida. Over the next 2 years, part of the land was transformed into the world’s leading theme park resort. It wasn’t an easy job. In this power point presentation, the secrets of the construction of the Magic Kingdom will be discussed. We will also take a virtual tour around the park as it currently stands and discuss some of the most popular rides and attractions.

Building the Magic EPCOT Center

In the late 1970s, Disney decided to build a new theme park in Florida. There were 2 competing themes, which one would actually be built? In this PowerPoint presentation we will examine the history of EPCOT center- what was Walt’s dream vs what was eventually built. We will also take a virtual tour of the park, and discuss the history of some of the popular attractions.

Building the Magic: Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the Florida park that has undergone the most changes since it was opened in 1989. From name changes to theme changes, some have been positive, some not as much. We will look at the original vision for this park, and how it has evolved over the years. We will explore the major additions to the park, including Toy Story Land, and Galaxy’s Edge, as well as the park as is it today

Building the Magic: Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom is the newest addition to the Florida parks, and the largest. Walt Disney wanted to use live animals on the Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom, but it was impractical. Animal Kingdom allowed to company to realize Walt’s vision for live animal attractions. We will talk about the obstacles faced with building a theme park and zoo, and what there is to see at the “wildest” of the Disney Parks.

Forgotten Disney: Extinct Rides and Attractions of The Florida Parks

In the 50 years that Walt Disney World in Florida has been in operation, there have been many attractions that have been closed for one reason or another. In this PowerPoint presentation we will look at some of these attractions. Some were loved and are still missed by fans today, others may be best forgotten. Will any of them be a favorite of yours?

Illinois Topics

There is more to Illinois than Chicago!

Chicago is Illinois’ largest city, but it only makes up 234 square miles of the over 57,000 square miles in Illinois. Learn about the state of Illinois outside the city limits. We will look at the history of the state, some of its famous places, and a few of its famous residents.

Sweet Home Chicago: A tour of Chicago

Chicago is home to awe-inspiring museums, iconic architecture, and world-famous sites — and you can explore them all virtually. In this PowerPoint presentation, we will travel virtually around Chicago, and see some famous (and not so famous) sites. We will look at public art, the museum campus,  some of the beautiful architecture that the city has to offer and more. Led by a lifelong Chicago area resident, this 2 hour tour will make you feel like you are there.

The Windy City? Myths, Lies & Legends about Chicago

Did Mrs. O’Leary’s cow start the great Chicago fire? Were the Chicago Cubs cursed by a goat? Is Chicago especially windy? These questions and many more will be answered by this 2 hour PowerPoint Presentation. Hauntings, curses, fun facts and trivia make this lecture fun and sometimes funny.

Custom lectures

Is there a topic that you and your group are particularly interested in? With at least 2 months advance notice, Valerie can create a lecture customized for you. Call or email for more information. Fee will vary with lecture length requested.

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