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Robert McNamara

Steven Spielberg Delivers a Gettysburg Address

By November 19, 2012

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Today is the 149th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, the brief speech President Abraham Lincoln delivered to clarify, in poetic terms, the purpose of the Civil War.

The keynote speaker at this morning's ceremonies at Gettysburg National Cemetery, the site where Lincoln spoke, was director Steven Spielberg. His new film "Lincoln" contains, in its opening minutes, a recitation of the Gettysburg Address, though not spoken by Lincoln.

Spielberg was preceded at the podium by authors Doris Kearns Goodwin and Harold Holzer, both of whom served as historical consultants to "Lincoln." Holzer introduced the director as "a man I can say is 'Abraham Lincoln's Spielberg,' Steven Spielberg."

The director referred to the Gettysburg Address as the "most perfect prose poem ever penned by an American." He also spoke of the battle and the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought on the fields of Gettysburg, and expressed gratitude to the "citizen soldiers of the United States."

Spielberg mentioned that, after years of preparation for his film, he now feels like Lincoln is one of his oldest friends. To laughter from the audience, Spielberg mentioned that as he has the phone number of actor Daniel Day-Lewis "on my speed dial," he could, if he missed Lincoln too much, "just call him up and ask him to tell me a story."

Spielberg expressed an "unpayable debt" he feels to historians and the nation's "population of Lincoln obsessives." He said everyone connected to the film "is now a Lincoln obsessive."

"We are filmmakers," continued Spielberg. "We are not scholars, we are not historians. But we are deeply indebted to those of you who are."

Following Spielberg's keynote address, the ceremony, which was being live-streamed on the web, continued with some more familiar and charmingly local fare. A Lincoln impersonator recited the text of the Gettysburg Address, and a local baritone sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

And, rounding out a remarkably American event, a number of new citizens of the United States took the oath of citizenship.

More: Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address

Photograph: Lincoln, photographed by Alexander Gardner in November 1863/Library of Congress

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