The American Civil War really wasn’t that long ago, as I’ve reminded my children many times. Grammy’s grandfather fought in it, I tell them. The lives of many people alive today overlapped with the lives of these soldiers. So many of us are at most two degrees separated from the civil war.
Or we were, when we were younger. We are losing our elders, our living history, much too fast. I suspect that the Gettysburg Address seems like ancient history to many people today, despite its enduring relevance. That’s why I was so glad to hear that the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, newspaper judged it appropriate to retract their 150-year-old editorial remarks and publish a cleverly-worded correction last week. And that’s why I was even more thrilled when Civil War storyteller Ken Burns proposed that Americans record themselves reading/reciting the Gettysburg Address out loud to celebrate its 150th anniversary yesterday, November 19, 2013.
Take a look at Learntheaddress.org to hear our living U.S. Presidents and other well-known folks speaking these 269 words. (But do it after you are done reading this post, OK?) I loved the mash-up. You can also upload a video of yourself reading the address. What a cool thing for your descendants to find! (By the way, Ken Burn’s inspiration for this project came from kids in my home state of Vermont who attend a school that still requires memorizing the Gettysburg Address each year. Yes, you detect a bit of home state pride there.)
Judy Russell, our beloved Legal Genealogist, posted her lovely recording on her blog. That got me thinking, as Judy usually does. My mother’s grandfather, Joshua Bair, was there with his regiment that day, stationed at Gettysburg as part of the clean-up detail assigned to the battleground. She’s 96 years old now, and I’d love to preserve the sound of her reading the address. She and her grandfather’s lives missed overlapping by a very short time, but close enough. If you’d like to be two degrees from Lincoln’s address that November day in 1863, have a listen to my mom: