It’s been 149 years since President Abraham Lincoln delivered his most famous speech as he dedicated a national cemetery to honor those who died during the three-day Civil War Battle of Gettysburg.
Participants toted blankets and folding chairs as they walked up the slope to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery Monday for the annual ceremony marking the Gettysburg Address.
This year, interest in Lincoln has been reignited by the new film by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
Spielberg was the keynote speaker, earning laughs from the crowd of hundreds as he called them fellow “Lincoln obsessives.”
The Oscar-winner says over the course of creating his latest film, “Lincoln,” he has come to think of the nation’s 16th president as an old friend.
“I’m luckier than one sense than nearly all of you because I have Daniel Day Lewis’ phone number in my speed dial,” he said. “If I start to really miss him terribly, I can just call him up and ask him to tell me a story.”
He turned serious as he acknowledged the hallowed ground of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
“The reason for this concentration of heartbreak and heroism in a geographic location is simple,” Spielberg said. “And Lincoln told us what it was that day when he found his best and his truest voice. It’s the courage, the selflessness, the strength, endurance, heroism and the sacrifice of the patriots who were buried here.”
Compared with Lincoln’s 1863 speech, the moviemaker’s talk was lengthy — Spielberg spoke for about 12 minutes. The Gettysburg Address was only two.
Re-enactor James Getty, who portrayed Lincoln, recited the speech shortly after Spielberg finished, dedicating the Soldiers’ National Cemetery for the 149th time.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the Lincoln biography on which Spielberg based his film, says it was fitting that one of the country’s best storytellers was on hand to celebrate the speech that has come to define the nation’s 16th president, who was a master storyteller himself.
“No president understood better the power of stories than Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, in the Gettysburg Address we commemorate today, Lincoln translated the story of our country into words of enduring clarity and beauty — a country founded on the majestic idea that ordinary people could govern themselves,” Goodwin said.