In honor of Presidents’ Day.
I call to mind a beautiful little speech, and how I was lucky enough to enter into it deeply.
I never really appreciated Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, though its iconic beginning, “Four score and seven years ago,” was ingrained in my mind as a child, as it is in the minds of countless Americans.
I knew those first six words, and had probably heard or read the whole speech some way, but I never fully appreciated it until I visited and took a tour of the battlefield at Gettysburg, over summer break one year during college.
The feeling of being in that Civil War battlefield, walking around it, and hearing the Park Ranger tell colorful stories about the history of the bloody and tide-turning battle there, was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.
It so powerfully made the history come alive for me. So much so that I was inspired to visit another Civil War battlefield later that summer, and I took a course on the Civil War during my final semester in college several months later. As part of the assigned reading for that class, I got to read a really cool book called The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, a historical novel about the battle at Gettysburg. As I was reading it, I could picture vividly in my mind the real places where the action took place because of having been to Gettysburg in person.
The image of the lush green rolling hills the battle took place on still lives in my head, many years later.
All these experiences combined add up to me having some kind of emotional memory around this, as well as a more specific sense in my mind what that battle and that war were about, and how it might have been to live through that time. It makes Lincoln’s succinct speech and well-chosen words feel so much more brilliant, come so much more alive for me.
Now, through the technological miracle of a web search, I just learned there are several versions of the Gettysburg address. Don’t think I had read that before. Wikisource does not say which wording Lincoln actually delivered at the dedication of the battlefield at Gettysburg, so I took the prettiest one to share visually.
Here’s a link to the version engraved behind the statue of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial.
What brings history alive for you? I’d love to know, if you’d like to share a comment or a story about that.