Playing the Roles of a Lifetime Civil War Actors Dutifully Research Historical Figures

By Allen, Kari | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 14, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Playing the Roles of a Lifetime Civil War Actors Dutifully Research Historical Figures


Allen, Kari, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Kari Allen Daily Herald Staff Writer

You'd never know it now, but Ken Pacanowski first assumed the role of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant quite by accident.

He picked up the role in 1986 when the man who had portrayed Grant moved to Galena - the real Union general's hometown - and couldn't come back for Naper Settlement's annual Civil War Days observance.

When organizers began scrambling to find a replacement, the former interpreter suggested Pacanowski.

A Lisle resident, Pacanowski had been a Civil War re-enactor for 10 years and, as it turned out, was a perfect choice to portray the former general.

Pacanowski will play Grant for the 14th straight year on Saturday and Sunday as part of Civil War Days activities at the living history museum near downtown Naperville.

Having studied Grant's public and personal life, Pacanowski has become an expert on the Civil War hero's memory.

"Some of the 'revolutionist writers' said Grant was a big drunk, which he wasn't," Pacanowski said. "They're not giving credit where credit was due, for all the great things he did."

After years of research, Pacanowski thinks he has a pretty good idea of who Grant was - "an everyday kind of guy" who rarely buttoned his coat, didn't wear a belt or carry a sword.

During the last months of the war, he wore a private's uniform, with only stars on the jacket to mark him as a general. He was a modest man with common sense, Pacanowski said.

"He was not ostentatious in any way," he said.

These are all images Pacanowski shares in his portrayal. He's had help from his wife, Annette, who plays the general's wife, Julia.

"I've been at this long enough where if you woke me up in the middle of the night and said, 'You're Grant,' boom! - that would be it," Pacanowski said.

Abe and Mary Lincoln

Max and Donna Daniels of Wheaton will bring their portrayals of Abraham and Mary Lincoln to Naper Settlement for the 10th time this weekend.

Even though the Wheaton couple portrays the former president and first lady roughly 260 times a year - full-time for the past four years - they still feel they have more to learn.

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