By Wendy Swanson
Wednesday, November 1, 2023
In 1963 In 2023
Dedication Day Keynote Speakers - Past and Present
Each November 19, the crowds descend upon the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg – to reflect on Lincoln and his “few appropriate remarks.” This year will be no different.
Yet, at the same time, 2023 will be different, for this year marks two special anniversaries. First, this will be the 160th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. However, this year’s Dedication Day ceremony also will commemorate an event many – if not most of us - missed: the 1963 program at Gettysburg National Cemetery marking the centennial of the Address. This is the 60th anniversary of that historic ceremony.
That program’s keynote speaker was a well-known Gettysburg resident - General Dwight D, Eisenhower - who as a former U.S. president as well as a military leader certainly was able to provide insights into presidential leadership. Also on the rostrum that morning was Marian Anderson - who performed at the 1963 ceremony at the invitation of General Eisenhower. A fitting move on the part of General Eisenhower, as Anderson’s 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial was a major milestone in this country’s civil rights history.
This year’s program has been designed to echo back to 1963 – not only to honor and remember Lincoln and his words but also to reflect on the centennial celebration of this most iconic of American speeches.
At Gettysburg National Cemetery: The name of this year’s keynote speaker certainly is a familiar one: Eisenhower. Following in her grandfather’s footsteps is Susan Eisenhower, a distinguished author in her own right and founding director of the Eisenhower Group. She is known for her work as a policy analyst, most often focusing on national security and related security issues. Her most recent book focuses on presidential leadership through an examination of How Ike Led: The Principles Behind Eisenhower’s Biggest Decisions (Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St Martin’s Publishing Group: August 11, 2020).
The program will include a special performance honoring opera singer and civil rights pioneer, Marian Anderson, who also was on the rostrum in 1963. Performing this musical tribute will be celebrated American mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges. She has performed at top opera and concert stages both here and abroad and is considered a rising star of her generation. In 2022 she was named as one of the Kennedy Center’s NEXT50 cultural leaders and the same year as a recipient of the Marian Anderson award.
Tradition holds that the anniversary programs include a reading of the Gettysburg Address. Doing those honors this year will be Emmy-nominated actor Graham Sibley, who portrays Lincoln in the History Channel’s Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography mini-series.
Two additional names on the program will be quite familiar to Lincoln Group members and to all students of Lincoln, as they are renowned Lincoln experts. Harold Holzer and Doris Kearns Goodwin will round out the “cast” on the rostrum at Gettysburg National Cemetery that morning. Their presence at this special edition of the annual Dedication Day program is quite appropriate. (See more complete bios of the day’s speakers here.)
The day’s events will begin at 10:15 a.m. on the morning of the 19th with a wreath-laying, at the nearby Soldiers’ National Monument. This act honors the 3,000+ Union soldiers buried at this resting ground. The spotlight will then move to the formal Dedication Day program, beginning at 10:30 a.m., at the historic rostrum in the cemetery. Seating is limited, but attendees are invited to bring their own lawn chairs. Remember, if you plan to attend: dress for the weather – Gettysburg can be quite chilly in November. Parking is provided at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center in Lot 3, with free shuttle service on Rabbittransit’s Gold Line Shuttle. The shuttle operates from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.
And then a luncheon: The Fellowship traditionally holds its annual meeting and luncheon immediately after the cemetery ceremony (12 noon at the Wyndham Hotel, 95 Presidential Circle, Gettysburg, PA 17325.) The luncheon program this year will include an informal conversation with Susan Eisenhower and a continuation of the earlier tribute to Marian Anderson, again featuring a J’Nai Bridges. (See the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania website for more information.)
And there’s more! Remember too that these Dedication Day programs are not the only events happening in Gettysburg that weekend. On Saturday November 18, the annual Remembrance Day parade – honoring those who gave their lives during the war - will wind through the streets of Gettysburg. The parade includes hundreds of reenactors portraying military units (cavalry, infantry and artillery) as well as civilians including ladies in mourning. Marchers range from rank and file soldiers to military leaders – you never know, you might even catch a glimpse of a Lincoln or a Grant! A final event on Saturday evening gives visitors an opportunity for reflection. This is the annual Remembrance Day illumination at Gettysburg National Cemetery, with over 3500 luminary candles on the graves of those who fell at Gettysburg - to brighten the darkness of the night and to enlighten those who visit.
(Photo credits: Dwight Eisenhower - NPS
Susan Eisenhower: Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania)