Gettysburg Address event marks kick-off for local Lincoln Forum
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Fri., Nov. 22, 2013
The tall man in the black suit and stovepipe hat mingled in the small crowd gathered in front of Norwich City Hall Nov. 21, passing out what he called “graven images” of himself. “I’ve been polishing my image,” he said, pulling a handful of bright copper Lincoln-head pennies from his pocket and offering them to William and Christa Colprit of Pawcatuck for their nearby grandchildren. “I don’t give it to the children,” he said. “What I do is give it to the parents, because children should never accept anything from strangers.”
Lewis Dube, of Union City, has appeared before as Lincoln during the Rose City’s Emancipation Proclamation observances. Now he had returned to recite perhaps the president’s best-known speech, delivered at the Nov. 19, 1863, dedication of the cemetery on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pa., site of one of the Civil War’s deadliest battles.
The event marked the speech’s 150th anniversary, as well as the launch of the Lincoln Forum of Eastern Connecticut, a new organization that local history buffs hope will spark interest and active research into Lincoln’s presence in, and connections to, the region.
After Dube recited the speech, Civil War Round Table President Vic Butsch read off the names of seven men from eastern Connecticut, all members of the 14th Connecticut, who lost their lives at Gettysburg. “They were right in the middle of where the Confederates charged,” he said. After each name was read, the Freedom Bell in the plaza tolled. Corp. Walter Standish was from Sprague; the other seven hailed from Waterford, New London, Coventry and Vernon.
Guest speaker Frank Williams, a Rhode Island judge, Civil War scholar and head of the Lincoln Forum of Boston, told listeners about the context of Lincoln’s speech. More than 51,000 men were killed, wounded or missing on the Gettysburg pastures, and the suffering was immeasurable. Among the thousands of uncensored letters sent home by hard-pressed soldiers was one which described the battle as “nothing but fighting, starving, dying and cussing.”
“The Civil War tells us that we possess a tragic history… against which we must perpetually hope,” he said. Its story is “a national reserve of words, images and landscapes… 150 years later, it’s more relevant than ever.”
City Historian Dale Plummer noted that Lincoln’s 1860 campaign visit to the Rose City left an indelible imprint. He related the story of the Rev. John Gulliver, then-pastor of the First Congregational Church, who rode the train with Lincoln out of the city and then wrote a lengthy account of their conversation. But more obscure connections exist, too. Plummer said that he discovered on a recent visit to Lincoln’s Springfield, Ill. home that the house was purchased from a native of Pomfret, Conn.
“This is an area that isn’t much explored or studied,” he said. “We have the opportunity to build something we can really use to educate people. This is an idea that will continue and will grow.”
The Colprits brought their grandsons Joseph, 11, and Cody, 12, to meet Lincoln. Christa Colprit said that they attended the 125th anniversary of the address at the Gettysburg battlefield, and have made pilgrimages to other significant Lincoln sites. “There’s so much to him,” she said of Lincoln. “He shouldn’t have been shot. There was a lot more he could have done, just like President [John] Kennedy.”
The Gettysburg Address, which begins with the familiar words “Fourscore and seven years ago…” has a timeless appeal, said Butsch. “You can’t go wrong with a speech like that,” he said. “No matter where it is or who does it, it’s always fabulous.”