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Major Event at Gettysburg National Military Park To Mark 150th Anniversary of Gettysburg Address

This photo shows part of the crowd around Lincoln at the dedication of the cemetery in 1863. Security for a presidential visit was clearly viewed differently in that era! Library of Congress image.

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered a brief speech which included the phrase, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here...." Time has proven otherwise, and on November 19, 2013, a ceremony at Gettysburg National Military Park will mark the 150th anniversary of what is now known as the Gettysburg Address.

The original event to dedicate a new cemetery for Union soldiers who had died in the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 attracted a crowd of about 15,000 people. It's hard to predict how many will show up for the Sesquicentennial observance, but organizers note, "The number of visitors during the Dedication Day event is anticipated to be high so traffic may be a factor during your visit."

A wildcard in the planning is whether the current occupant of the White House will attend the celebration, but President Obama has been invited, and the park website notes, "In the event he accepts, there will be specific security procedures and instructions for the public who wish to attend."

With or without a presidential appearance, words to the wise for visitors would be: "plan ahead, arrive early, and be patient."

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in the Soldiers' National Cemetery and is expected to last about 90 minutes. It's being sponsored by Gettysburg National Military Park, the Gettysburg Foundation, the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania and Gettysburg College.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson will speak at the event, which also features Governor Tom Corbett, a reading of the Gettysburg Address by Lincoln portrayer James Getty, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will administer the Oath of Allegiance to sixteen new citizens.

According to information from the park, "The event is free; no ticket will be required to enter." That said, some advance planning would be prudent if you decide to attend. Here's some key information for attendees, excerpted from the park website:

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The Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg will be a lot busier on November 19. NPS photo.

Parking: Free parking is provided at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, 1195 Baltimore Pike and numerous satellite parking areas with free shuttles. When the Museum and Visitor Center lots are full, vehicles will be directed to the Outlet Shoppes at Gettysburg, 1863 Gettysburg Village Drive, and then to other lots as needed. Temporary signs will be in place to direct cars to the overflow lots as needed.

Shuttle/transportation: The York Adams Transportation Authority will provide free shuttle buses from satellite parking areas beginning at 6 a.m. 

Special security procedures. To ensure a safe and secure event, no backpacks, large bags, tripods, chairs or parcels will be permitted into the cemetery. Security screening at the cemetery entrances will begin at 7:30 a.m. Screening will take place at every cemetery gate: Steinwehr Avenue, Baltimore Street and Taneytown Road.

Accessibility: A limited number of handicapped parking spaces will be available in the National Cemetery South parking lot. People with mobility impairments should use the cemetery entrance on Taneytown Road.

"Remote Viewing" Opportunities: Live coverage of the event begins at 9 a.m. with a musical prelude and the ceremony begins at 10 a.m. Live coverage will be available via the internet on the day of the event by following links from websites for the park and the Gettysburg Foundation.

Additional viewing areas for the public: Due to limited viewing space for the public in the National Cemetery, additional free viewing areas for the simulcast are available. An outdoor viewing area with 2000 chairs will be set up on the lawn north of Meade's Headquarters in Gettysburg National Military Park. Indoor viewing areas are available at the Majestic Theater, 25 Carlisle Street, and at the Gateway Gettysburg Theater, 20 Presidential Circle. No tickets are required for these locations. Theater seating is available beginning at 8:30 a.m.

You'll find other tips about attending the event at this link on the park website, along with directions to the area and a park map. 

In addition to the ceremony marking the anniversary of Lincoln's speech, a number of other activities are planned in the area beginning on Friday, November 16, and extending through Saturday, November 23. They include special exhibits of historical documents, a series of talks, book and DVD signings by several authors including Ken Burns ( creator of the PBS documentary The Civil War) and the 11th Annual Remembrance Illumination, in which nearly 3,500 luminary candles are placed on Civil War graves in Soldiers'™ National Cemetery.

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Candles and flags on the cemetery during the 2010 Remembrance Illumination. Photo by lcm1863 via Flickr and Creative Commons.

On Monday evening, November 18, "An Evening at the David Wills House" will offer an chance to "Visit the place where President Abraham Lincoln, orator Edward Everett and numerous other dignitaries spent the evening 150 years ago on November 18, 1863, when the Wills family hosted 38 guests at their home the night before the Soldiers'™ National Cemetery dedication ceremony. Tour David Wills'™ office, where he oversaw the creation and dedication of Soldiers'™ National Cemetery, and the room where Lincoln finished his now immortal Gettysburg Address the night before delivering 'a few appropriate remarks.'"

You'll find details about those and other activities on websites for Gettysburg National Military Park, the Gettysburg Foundation and the Gettysburg Visitor and Convention Bureau.  

Back in 1863, Abraham Lincoln had been invited to give a "few appropriate remarks" at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg. He was preceded on the platform by a famous orator of the day, Edward Everett, who spoke to the crowd for two hours. Lincoln's now classic speech was delivered in something closer to two minutes.

Few of us today recognize the name of Edward Everett or could offer up a quote from his talk, but Lincoln's brief "remarks" are often included on lists of "best" or "top" speeches from throughout history.

Pundits might suggest there's a lesson there for those on the agenda for this year's commemoration! 

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