Happy 150th Anniversary, Gettysburg Address!

Today marks the 150th anniversary of The Gettysburg Address – that’s seven score and ten years ago, for you Lincolnophiles. I know: it feels like we celebrated the last Gettysburg Address anniversary days ago – but bam!, it’s November 19th again. We’d love to give an iconic oration wearing a top hat in commemoration of the anniversary, but we can’t – we don’t have a top hat. However, we can offer you the following ten tidbits about the speech, from videos to historical facts to personal anecdotes.

  • There are only two photographs of Lincoln at the Gettysburg Address.

Nobody can agree on which black and white blob he is, though.

This one is definitely Abe.

One of these guys is Lincoln. I have the same reaction to this as I do to ultrasound pictures and Magic Eye books – just pretending I see it so we can all move on. Smithsonian.com has a fun interactive feature so you can decide for yourself.
  • The Gettysburg Address and I go way back.

Nerd Confession: I took it upon myself to memorize the Gettysburg Address when I was seven. In all honesty, it was less because I’m a nerd, and more because I’m an idiot. In my elementary school, the primary grades stood in lines inside the foyer in the morning before the bell rang. Picture a big, drafty Edwardian brick school – very A Little Princess. A bronze plaque displaying the Gettysburg Address hung outside of a set of double doors. One day, one of the sassier nuns joked that in third grade we would all be tested on the Address.  I had a serious Hermione Granger streak, and was also just stupidly gullible. “Better get started now!,” I thought. So, I memorized it, like a nerdy little idiot.

  • In a video for an upcoming Ken Burns project, celebs and former presidents recite the address.

This is probably the classiest video mashup ever. There’s more at Burns’ website, Learn the Address.  I know I’ve mentioned my feelings about Ken Burns around these parts before, but let’s just file it under “weird crush” for now. Except in my mind’s eye he looks like Richard Attenborough, which come to think of it is also weird.

  • The Address was met with mixed reviews:

The Chicago Sun Times : “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly flat and dishwattery remarks of the man who has to be pointed out as the President of the United States. … Is Mr. Lincoln less refined than a savage? … It was a perversion of history so flagrant that the most extended charity cannot view it as otherwise than willful.”

The London Times: “The ceremony was rendered ludicrous by some of the sallies of that poor President Lincoln. Anything more dull and commonplace it would not be easy to produce.”

There were plenty of glowing reviews as well, of course. It just goes to show — next time you give a presentation and get a lukewarm reception, you should tell everyone to give it a good hundred, hundred and fifty years to sink in.

Don’t forget the Kentucky accent, either! Not exactly the booming, dignified delivery I’ve always imagined. Lincoln died 12 years before Edison invented audio playback (thanks for nothing, John Wilkes Booth!), but historical reports show that it took listeners a good ten minutes to adjust to how freaking weird his voice was.

  • Lincoln didn’t write the speech on the train from Washington, D.C. to Gettysburg

…despite what your fifth-grade teacher told you. This does make you feel a little better that you spent your last train ride watching Netflix and playing Candy Crush instead of writing one of the most celebrated speeches in history, at least.

  • The place that Lincoln gave the Address is probably now the middle of a graveyard.

By one recent analysis, the speech was given right here:

It almost definitely wasn’t given at the location of the Lincoln Address Memorial at Gettysburg, even though your tour guide probably told you that when you were eight years old and too young to know that your family took lame vacations (source: my past).

  • While it’s too bad we’ll never hear Lincoln’s shrill little Southern baby-voice deliver the Address

… some folks have been listening to it for the past 150 years. I’m talking about ghosts. If you’re into that sort of thing, Gettysburg is supposed to be one of the most haunted locations in the United States. Word has it that the undead are a little bit sick of hearing the whole fourscore spiel every November.

  • Lincoln got about as good a night’s sleep before the Gettysburg Address as you did on Spring Break in Panama Beach.

According to contemporary accounts, there was a party atmosphere in Gettysburg the night before the dedication. Bands played all night, and drunk revelers shouted. Groupies serenaded Lincoln until he came out of his room, and then they begged him to speak. If iPhones had been invented, you know they would have been taking selfies with him. The crowds were more or less the 19th century version of those kids on your college break singing Golddigger til 4 am.

  • The Gettysburg Address fits almost perfectly to the tune of Firework by Katy Perry

There are several videos on Youtube, mostly for school projects. Should I tell them that that nun was lying and you don’t really need to learn it?


2 thoughts on “Happy 150th Anniversary, Gettysburg Address!

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