Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Diane Stoneback

4/20/2009 (6 years ago)

McClatchy Newspapers (

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) (MCT) - Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address lasted only two minutes, and yet it has been called the "most enduring speech in American history."


By Diane Stoneback

McClatchy Newspapers (

4/20/2009 (6 years ago)

Published in Travel

Lincoln's stay in Gettysburg to deliver the speech was brief, too _ he was in the south-central Pennsylvania town for less than 24 hours. And now, 146 years later, his Gettysburg address while visiting _ the stately brick home of attorney David Wills at 8 Lincoln Square _ is a museum.

Lincoln suppered in the David Wills House. He penned revisions and wrote the final draft of his speech for Soldiers' National Cemetery in the home's second-floor drawing room. And yes, Lincoln slept here, too.

You can see the carved mahogany bed in which the lanky president rested after his train ride from Washington, D.C. The coverlet that kept him warm. His view of the town square where a Confederate flag had flown just four months earlier.

The David Wills House museum opened in February, on what would have been Lincoln's 200th birthday.

It's the newest addition to the Gettysburg National Military Park, an attraction that also includes the new Museum and Visitors Center and the completely restored 360-degree Gettysburg Cyclorama Painting, Soldiers' National Cemetery, the battlefields and the Eisenhower National Historic Site.

Wills' prominence and his home's location on the southeast corner of Gettysburg's town square meant the Wills House was in the center of the action during the battle that raged July 1-3, 1863, as well as in the town's struggle to recover during the days that followed.

Before entering the mansion, you should look up and imagine Wills leading friends to the roof to watch the fighting on the Battle of Gettysburg's first day. Picture Mrs. Wills hiding the family silver on an upper floor to keep it safe from marauding rebel troops occupying the town.

Look down. The family and their neighbors spent the next two days of the battle in the home's basement, taking cover from rifle and artillery fire that sent deadly pieces of lead flying through the town's streets.

Not long after the battle's last shots were fired, Wills emerged to head the town's recovery effort _ no small task considering the three-day battle left an estimated 7,000 dead men where they'd fallen and an additional 44,000 casualties _ soldiers who were wounded, missing or taken prisoner. Dead and wounded soldiers outnumbered the Gettysburg civilians left to care for them by 11 to 1.

"No one there had ever seen death on this scale. Bodies were spread over 25 square miles," says one placard explaining the devastation faced by Wills and the rest of Gettysburg's residents.

Most homes and public buildings, including the Wills House, became hospitals. Battlefields became temporary burial grounds.

Pennsylvania Gov. Andrew Curtin appointed Wills to handle the crisis. Overnight, his stately home "became Ground Zero in Gettysburg's recovery effort, with Wills himself fulfilling the roles of the Centers for Disease Control, The Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency combined," says Dr. John A. Latschar, superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park.

Mothers, wives, sisters and brothers searching for lost loved ones poured into Wills' first-floor home office to ask his help.

Gettysburg residents and farmers came, too, in the hopes he could help them get payment for damages to their homes, barns and crops.

Wills proposed creating a new Soldiers' National Cemetery to handle burial of all soldiers of the North, bought the land (funded by the state of Pennsylvania) and supervised the cemetery's layout, including a plan for men of all ranks to be treated equally.

Finally, he planned the consecration of the cemetery. He invited the greatest orator of the day, Edward Everett, to give the main speech. Just two weeks before the Nov. 19, 1863 ceremonies, he also asked Lincoln to make a "few appropriate remarks" following the oration that would "formally set apart these grounds to their sacred use."

He could not know how enduring those remarks would be.

Wills' spartan office, and Lincoln's bedroom are the only museum rooms restored to their 1863 appearance. The office, with only a fireplace, table/desk, chair, book case and gas lamps, still brings the tragedy into focus with its log book detailing the personal belongings found with each dead soldier, from gold rings, fish hooks and combs to 2 cents and testaments.

Thought-provoking galleries and two films _ "Battle Ground to Hallowed Ground" and "A Brief But Immortal Speech" _ are interspersed with exhibits including a diorama of Gettysburg's buildings and their uses during and after the battle; a skeleton key to Lincoln's bedroom; a telegram sent by Mrs. Lincoln to ease the president's worries about their son Tad, who was quite ill when Lincoln left for Gettysburg; a saddle blanket used by Lincoln on his horseback ride to the cemetery, and a "pain bullet" showing teeth marks left in the lead by a soldier undergoing surgery.

The museum debunks myths about the Gettysburg Address, too. Lincoln didn't scrawl the speech on the back of an envelope while traveling to Gettysburg. The first draft, on White House stationary, was written before the president left Washington. And the crowd at the cemetery dedication ceremonies on Nov. 19, 1863 didn't give Lincoln the silent treatment. Their lengthy applause interrupted his remarks several times.

But the biggest surprise in the museum is learning that Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was not an instant success.

Although Everett, the featured orator at the cemetery ceremonies, and some newspaper editors and writers recognized the speech as a "gem," there were others who sided with a Chicago Times reporter who wrote, "The cheeks of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery remarks of the man who has to be pointed out as the president of the United States."

But after seeing the Wills House focus on Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address, visitors will realize Lincoln was mistaken, too, when he said, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here."



What: Home at Gettysburg National Military Park where Abraham Lincoln stayed before delivering his inspirational address. Now a museum, it holds displays and films about the battle, the town's struggle to recover afterward and Lincoln's stay and speech.

Where: 8 Lincoln Square, Gettysburg

Hours: Spring hours, through April, are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Summer hours, beginning May 1, are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

How much: $6.50; $5.50, seniors; $4, ages 6-17.

Parking: Some parking is available at meters next to the Wills House on Gettysburg's center square. But it's more plentiful and less expensive at the nearby Race Horse Alley Parking Garage.

Tip 1: Because the David Wills House museum is so new, its programming and Web site are not complete. Check the site or call for latest info.

Tip 2: This thoughtful and quiet museum is not so great for the very young.

Info: 866-486-5735, or



You can "size up" the 16th president because his life-size statue stands on the brick sidewalk next to the David Wills House, Gettysburg's newest museum. Stand next to his 6-foot-4-inch likeness and document it with a picture.

The image of the president, portrayed as pointing toward the rooms of the Wills House where he finished writing the Gettysburg Address and spent the night, is thought to be one of the most realistic representations of Lincoln in existence.

To create the sculpture, artist J. Seward Johnson Jr. worked from a bronze life mask, a cast of Lincoln's hands, an exact copy of his suit and photographs of the boots he wore.


© 2009, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)


More Travel

Never before seen Vatican artifacts on display in Philadelphia Watch

Image of Pope Pius IX's processional cross.


A preview of "Vatican splendors" can be seen in an exhibit at the Franklin Institute that showcases never before seen relics and art pieces from the Vatican. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A collection of over 200 items from the Vatican that have never been seen ... continue reading

Visit historic Catholic sites in New York Watch

Image of Visit New York City's Historically Catholic architecture!

By Kenya Sinclair (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The New York Times released "A Tourist's Guide to Catholic New York," indicating which prominent locations in New York City stand out for their Catholic annotations and historic relevance. NEW YORK CITY, NY (Catholic Online) - People have made a journey to New York ... continue reading

'We were able to walk where Jesus walked': Pastor strives to become peacemaker while visiting the Holy Land Watch

Image of Pastor John Moyle offered to be a peacemaker between Israel and Palestine.

By Kenya Sinclair (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pastor John Moyle wanted to visit Israel not as a tourist, but as a peacemaker. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Moyle, who is a social justice minister at Oakbrook Church in Reston, Va., wanted his church group to become peacemakers throughout Israel and ... continue reading

Want to visit Cuba? Here are 5 things to keep in mind! Watch

Image of Visit Cuba today!

By Kenya Sinclair (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

With diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba restored, Americans have already started to plan Cuban vacations with thoughts of eating good food and soaking up plenty of sunshine -but what should Americans keep in mind as they plan?  LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading

St. Michael's Mount Watch

Image of St. Michael's Mount is located on an area that is supposedly part of a mythical kingdom that was destroyed by the sea.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

St Michael's Mount is a tidal island located 366 meters, (400 yd) off the Mount's Bay coast of Cornwall in the United Kingdom. It is a civil parish and is united with the town of Marazion by a man-made causeway of granite setts, passable between mid-tide and low ... continue reading

Interactive map gives users a 'blast from the past' of Old San Francisco Watch

Image of Two encoders have taken a Google Street View Map and turned into an interactive look at San Francisco of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Call it a virtual time machine. Two encoders have taken a Google Street View Map and turned into an interactive look at San Francisco of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It may very well be the closest to a trip back in time. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) ... continue reading

Will Pope Francis' visit draw a big crowd? Hotel vacancies point to lower numbers than expected Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Hotel owners across Philadelphia hoped Pope Francis' visit would become a major payday. However, as the pontiff's visit quickly approaches, a quarter of Philadelphia's 11,200 hotel rooms are still vacant for the time during his visit, according to Fortune. LOS ... continue reading

Skulls, pets, babies and the dead: The strangest things people try to smuggle on airplanes Watch

Image of


Airport security is one of the toughest to go through and is necessary to ensure the safety of those inside terminals, on planes and at the plane's destination. However, some people attempt to bypass TSA security measures to smuggle strange items in hilariously ... continue reading

Spectacular photos reveal 'alien world' (PHOTOS) Watch

Image of Image of the cave discovered beneath Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam (Ryan Deboodt/Caters News).


Locals discovered a cave near Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park last month, which was explored by adventure photographer Ryan Deboodt. As Deboodt's pictures show, it was like entering a breathtaking beautiful alien world. MUNTINLUPA, PHILIPPINES (Catholic Online) - Walls ... continue reading

Top Ten: World's Least Friendly Cities Watch

Image of The citizens in Moscow, Russia are not as friendly as they could be.

By Kenya Sinclair (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

When you think of friendly cities, images of smiling faces, well-behaved children, and quiet neighborhoods come to mind. However, the following top ten list contains the top least friendly cities! LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA (Catholic Online) - This list of the world's ... continue reading

All Travel News


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Joel 1:13-15; 2:1-2
13 Priests, put on sackcloth and lament! You ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 9:2-3, 6, 16, 8-9
6 the enemy is wiped out -- mere ruins for ever -- ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 11:15-26
15 But some of them said, 'It is through Beelzebul, ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 9th, 2015 Image

Sts. Denis, Rusticus, and Eleutherius
October 9: The first mention we have of these three martyrs who died around ... Read More