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Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Spielberg marks anniversary of the Gettysburg Address

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Nov 19, 2012 3:17 PM

It’s been 149 years since President Abraham Lincoln delivered his most famous speech dedicating a national cemetery to honor those who died during the three-day Civil War Battle of Gettysburg.

Hundreds of people toting blankets and folding chairs walked up the slope to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery for the annual ceremony marking the Gettysburg Address. The crowd laughed in the morning cold as the event’s keynote speaker, director Steven Spielberg, called them fellow “Lincoln obsessives.”

The Oscar-winner said that 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, in one sense, than nearly all of you because I have Daniel Day-Lewis’s phone number in my speed dial, and if I start to really miss him [Lincoln] terribly, I can just call him [Day-Lewis] up and ask him to tell me a story,” said Spielberg.  Day-Lewis played Lincoln in the film.

Spielberg called the cemetery where he stood a “concentration of heartbreak and heroism.”  

“And Lincoln told us what it was that day when he found his best and his truest voice,” Spielberg continued. “It’s the courage, the selflessness, the strength, endurance, heroism and the sacrifice of the patriots who were buried here.”

Compared to 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, re-dedicating the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

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Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of the Lincoln biography, “Team of Rivals,” on which Spielberg based his film, said it was fitting that one of the country’s best storytellers was on hand to mark the anniversary of Lincoln’s most famous speech.

“No president understood better the power of stories than Abraham Lincoln,” Goodwin said. “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.”

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