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Gettysburg Remembers Lincoln

Each November I drive to Gettysburg for the Lincoln Forum and Remembrance Day, as the anniversary of the national cemetery dedication by President Lincoln is known. The battlefield, cemetery and town are no longer the colorful jumble of tourists and cars that fill the place in the summer, and some serenity has returned.

The Forum, now in its 13th year, brings together Lincoln scholars and authors who speak on the 16th President and the Civil War. It is always held at the Holiday Inn Gettysburg Battlefield on the three days preceding Remembrance Day. It is very well attended and usually sells out by June, as it did this year.

If you are a Lincoln fan, this is the symposium to attend. Contact the Forum early in 2009 to be notified when registration opens next year. But other events open to the public this year abound.

On Wednesday, Nov. 19, at 10:30 a.m., the main event of Remembrance Day week takes place at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

This year marks the 145th anniversary of Lincoln's address. For me, the best part of the public ceremony is professional actor and local resident Jim Getty's delivery of the Gettysburg Address. He makes a very believable Lincoln with his craggy face, gaunt figure and stern countenance. He delivers the address as though he is saying those lyrical words for the first time and the audience seems to hold its collective breath until he finishes.

The keynote speaker is film maker Ken Burns, who brought the Civil War into American homes in 1990 with his now legendary documentary. The program is expanded this year to include the unveiling of the design for the 2009 Abraham Lincoln commemorative silver dollar by U.S. Mint deputy director Andrew D. Brunhart.

Just prior to the that program, at 10:15 a.m., is a wreath laying at the Soldiers' National Monument. Immediately following the main event is a U.S.Colored Troops Graveside Salute at the north end of the cemetery.

On the same day at the cemetery, between 5:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., the
Friends of the National Parks Gettysburg host an illumination. Each of the 3,500 graves is marked by a lit candle, creating a landscape of flickering light.

Did I mention what great photo opportunities these events present? Every year I bring home some wonderful images.

Also on the 19th, two programs at the restored Majestic Theater are scheduled for 8 p.m. First is the 10th annual Michael Shaara Prize for Excellence in Civil War Fiction with the award going to Donald McCaig, author of "CANAAN: A Novel of the Reunited States After the War." That is followed by the 47th annual
Robert Fortenbaugh Memorial Lecture, given this year by Catherine Clinton of Queen's University, Belfast. She will speak on, "The Tears of Lincoln:" Lincoln, Empathy and Leadership."

Most activities related to Remembrance Day are free but are often scattered through the week depending on which day the 19th falls. The very popular parade of hundreds of authentically clothed Union and some Confederate re-enactors takes place at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 22, the closest Saturday to Remembrance Day. Find a standing place anywhere along Baltimore or Steinwehr Avenues and watch the hour-long pageantry of men representing the Irish Brigade, Garibaldi's Guards, Pennsylvania Bucktails, 5th New York Zouaves and many others.

One year, Robert E. Lee, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and J.E.B Stuart were all present astride horses. Lincoln rode is a carriage with Frederick Douglass.

Although it doesn't appear on any schedule, an impromptu jam session of musicians who marched in the parade usually takes place near the Holiday inn later that evening. They gather in restaurant court yards and along the sidewalk to play favorite Civil War pieces. If someone tires, another musician steps in and the music rolls into the night.

This is a particularly good year to go to Gettysburg because the David Wills House will be open on Nov. 18 . The National Park Service plans a grand opening of the just-restored house next year. Wills was a Gettysburg lawyer who, following the devastation of the battle, recognized the need for a soldiers' cemetery and helped establish it. He organized the dedication ceremony and invited orator Edward Everett and Lincoln to the event. They both stayed with Wills the night before the dedication and left from there for the ride to the cemetery.

Historians say it was at the Wills house where Lincoln wrote the final version of his address, and not on the train ride using the back of an envelope as is widely believed.
For a detailed account of Lincoln's 25 hours in Gettysburg, including his stay at the Wills House, get the current copy of the Blue&Grey magazine available at Borders, among other places.

Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College Gabor Boritt's recent book, "Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech That Nobody Knows," is a good source for a fuller account of the address.

The train station where Lincoln arrived, located a few blocks from the Wills House, was also recently restored and is worth a visit.

And finally, this is a good time to pay a first or repeat visit to the new Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center that opened this year. The Cyclorama Painting, once housed in a separate building, is now part of the new facility.

In October, a controversial decision was made to begin charging an entrance fee. Prior to that, there had a been a charge only to see the painting or the movie. All three, whether you see them or not, cost $7.50 for adults, $6.50 for seniors and military, $5.50 for children ages six to 18, and those under six get in free.

I considered titling this column, "Ten Reasons To See Gettysburg Now," but realized, depending on your interests, one reason is all you need.

By Linda Wheeler  |  November 12, 2008; 3:57 PM ET
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