Program descriptions

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 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, no PowerPoint presentation accompanies it)

Out of Character Lectures

All lectures include a Q&A session and have a companion PowerPoint presentation.

All lectures can be presented remotely via zoom or another virtual platform.

The Lincoln Family

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

PowerPoint presentation about Lincoln’s life, focusing on where he lived and the people he met. It can be broken into shorter segments about the Kentucky & Indiana years, Illinois, or 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 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 others are answered in this presentation. Mary’s travels and insanity trial are discussed, including Robert’s law career and family life in Chicago.

 Losing the Light: The night Mary Lost Abraham

PowerPoint 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.

Abraham and Mary Lincoln in Popular Media

How have the Lincolns been portrayed in feature films and on television? This lecture explores the movies 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 they were made?

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

This is the audience’s question 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 insane, or was she a misdiagnosed and overmedicated victim? Hear the case facts and make your own decisions about this much-maligned first lady.

Divided: Mary Lincoln and Her Rebel Half-Sister Emilie Todd Helm

Many families were divided during the Civil War, and the Lincoln Family was no exception. This lecture will talk about Mary’s relationship with her family and where their loyalties lay. How did the war affect the family dynamics, and what happened after the war.

 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, families, and life after the Presidency.

Presidential Birthplaces

Which state has seen the most future Presidents born? Who was the first President born an American citizen? (Hint: Its not George Washington!) Humble or lavish, in a large town or out in the wilderness, in this 1 1/2 hr presentation, we will virtually travel to Presidential birthplaces across the country.

Who is Buried in Grants Tomb? Presidential gravesites

An old joke is, “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?” Do you know the answer? You will understand after this lecture. We will virtually tour 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. Some were happy & excited to move into the White House, and others were not. Starting with George Washington’s stepchildren, we will discuss their life before, during, and after their father’s term of office.

Presidential Pets

Presidents have always had pets. Today they are usually dogs and sometimes cats. There have been many other kinds of animals in the White House. We will look at the first families’ pets and learn which families kept the most exciting pets.

The First Ladies

The Founding Mothers – Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, & Dolley Madison

Wartime 1st ladies – Mary Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, & Laura Bush

Style Icons – Mary Lincoln, Jacqueline Kennedy, Frances Cleveland, & Nancy Reagan

Lesser-Known First Ladies -Jane Pierce, Abigail Fillmore, Sarah Polk, & Florence Harding

Accidental First Ladies– Eliza Johnson, Edith Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson, & Betty Ford

The Turn of 20th century First Ladies– Ida McKinley, Helen Taft, Ellen & Edith Wilson

The late 20th Century First Ladies -Roslyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush & Hillary Clinton

Presidential Wives who were not First ladies -Rachel Jackson, Martha Jefferson, & Eleanor Arthur

1st “Hostesses” – Martha Jefferson Randolph, Emily Donelson, Angelica Singleton Van Buren, Patricia Cooper Tyler, & Harriet Lane

Inaugural Gowns of the 1st Ladies

 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 contacting those who had passed on. We will learn what was required of a newly bereaved family and discuss how Victorians attempted to contact the dead.

Call the Doctor! Victorian Medical Practices

Victorians treated sickness and injury very differently than we do today. Then, they primarily relied on home remedies, natural cures, and prayer. This lecture will discuss the various therapies 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 an 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 result from Victorian culture.

Merry Christmas! Victorian Holiday Traditions

Why do we send Christmas Cards? Who had the 1st modern Christmas tree? When did Santa get his iconic red suit? All of these traditions have their roots in Victorian times. We will learn how and when these any other holiday traditions started and see how much of our modern practices got their start in the 1800s

Other Topics in  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 monuments. We will discuss why each memorial was built, who it honors, and other facts.

From Queen Victoria to the Modern Royals: A History of Royal Weddings

Queen Victoria set the standard for modern royal weddings. What was her celebration like, and how have all the royal weddings that came afterward follow or not follow her example? 

 Walt Disney & the Florida Theme Parks

The Life of Walt Disney

Walt Disney was a visionary in the entertainment world. He created notable animated films, beloved animated characters, and a new 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”? This 2-hour PowerPoint presentation will examine Walt’s life story, learn what made him the man he was, and about 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?

You’ve got a Friend in Me: The History & Films of Pixar Studios.

One of the founders of Pixar Studios said, “Easy isn’t the goal. Quality is the goal.” Pixar films are generally considered to be instant classics. From Toy Story to Luca and beyond, we will see how Pixar got its start and talk about each of their films.

 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 two years, part of the land was transformed into the world’s leading theme park resort. It wasn’t an easy job. In this PowerPoint 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. However, there were two competing themes; which one would be built? This PowerPoint presentation will examine the history of EPCOT center- 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 opened in 1989. Some have been positive from name changes to these changes, some not as much. First, we will look at the original vision for this park and how it has evolved over the years. Then, we will explore the significant additions to the park, including Toy Story Land and Galaxy’s Edge, and the park as it is 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 discuss the obstacles faced with building a theme park and zoo and what 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 operating, many attractions have been closed for one reason. 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?

Touring EPCOT Center’s World Showcase

EPCOT Center’s Many Festivals

A Walk Through of The Magic Kingdom in Florida

Planning Your Walt Disney World Vacation

A History & Tour of Disney Springs

Where to Eat at Walt Disney World

Where to Stay at Walt Disney World

Illinois & Chicago Topics

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 virtually. This PowerPoint presentation will travel around Chicago and see some famous (and not-so-famous) sites. We will look at public art, the museum campus,  some of the city’s beautiful architecture, 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? Did a goat curse the Chicago Cubs? Is Chicago incredibly windy? This 2-hour PowerPoint presentation will answer these questions and many more. This lecture is fun and sometimes funny: hauntings, curses, fun facts, and trivia.

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. The fee will vary with the lecture length requested.

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