Alpena celebrates 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address
ALPENA -One hundred fifty years ago President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address to recognize those who had been lost to that point of the Civil War, as well as to unite Americans who had been deeply divided over the issue of slavery. On Tuesday that speech was reenacted to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the event.
Lincoln was escorted into downtown Alpena’s Culligan Plaza on horseback, accompanied by his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, portrayed by Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan Executive Director Christine Witulski and Mayor Matt Waligora. They were ushered down Second Avenue by a color guard provided by Son of Union Veterans Lockwood Post who carried our nation’s flag, while dressed in Civil War attire.
Behind the president and the first lady were hundreds of area students, many of whom made posters and banners welcoming Lincoln and promoting equality. The sides of the street leading from the post office to the downtown plaza were lined with people capturing the event by taking photos and videos, with many offering the president a wave or a salute.
Upon arriving at the plaza, the crowd shared in a prayer by Pastor Paul Lance, recited the Pledge of Allegiance and was welcomed by Waligora. After a performance by Dr. Avery Aten, who played a pair of songs on his hammer dulcimer, the guest of honor addressed the crowd and history replayed itself.
The role of Lincoln was played by Duane Beyer. He said this is the first time he has portrayed the part of Lincoln and after being contacted to deliver the speech, he started to study not only the address, but more about who the person Lincoln was.
“Greg Adamus loaned me a couple books and DVDs and over the course of the last two months I have been studying up on that,” Beyer said. “I have a fairly good knowledge of what Lincoln went through during that time of Gettysburg.”
Waligora said it was an honor to take part in the anniversary celebration of Lincoln’s speech, which was was delivered at the same time 150 years ago. He said it made him proud to be from Alpena when he saw how many people came out to see Lincoln and hear his important message.
“I think it goes to show that the people know it was a speech for the soldiers and to bring us all together and that is exactly what it did,” Waligora said. “It was nice to see the town come together now 150 years later. It was amazing how many people were here. It was great.”
Witulski said there was a lot of planning involved to make Tuesday’s event as realistic to the original. She said during the parade and ceremony there were times where she was nearly overcome with emotions.
“If Lincoln would have truly came to Alpena the entire town would have come out to see him and today’s turnout was absolutely amazing,” Witulski said. “It is truly amazing at what the community experienced here. Riding in the parade, on the horse was surreal and during the speech I saw one little boy finish the speech and when you look into the young faces and realize the impact this will have on them, it sort of overwhelmed me.”
Adamus, who planned the event with the museum, said Alpena showed how important America is to it. He said the amount of support received to make the event a reality and the number of people who came out to witness it surpassed his expectations.
“It was such a beautiful thing and when those three horses came down Second Avenue and to see the crowd and see the school children, I was close to tears,” Adamus said.
After the address, Molly Wawro played “Taps” on her trumpet as a salute to those who lost their lives in the Civil War and the wars that followed. The students were allowed to have a question and answer session with Lincoln at the First Congregational Church.