The featured speaker at the dedication of the National Cemetery of Gettysburg, Edward Everett, spoke for more than two hours on Nov. 19, 1863. Then President Abraham Lincoln rose and spoke for less than two minutes, delivering the “Gettysburg Address.” It was 272 words long.
Lincoln look-alike Steve Burns of Milberger read that address Thursday, during a free program at the Great Bend Public Library. Burns, speaking as Lincoln, shared some history and answered questions.
The Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., took place from July 1-3, 1863, with 170,000 Confederate and Union troops assembled. By the time it was over, Burns said, over 50,000 men were killed, wounded or missing in action, and 1,000 horses were also killed. There was not a part of the battlefield where one could walk and not step on part of a body.
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Lincoln’s short speech began.
“When I wrote that speech, I gave it a lot of thought,” the re-enactor said. He looked to the past, and the Constitution, and he looked to the future, and the desire to keep the nation as one undivided country.
Burns has been making appearances as Lincoln for about four years. It began after he grew a beard and his wife noticed his resemblance to the 16th President of the United States.
Since then, he’s been making appearances at schools, nursing homes, parades and TV commercials. Today he’ll be at the Lincoln, Kan., “Lincoln Re-enactment Weekend.” (On noon Saturday there will be an Abraham Lincoln look-alike contest, and Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s wedding to Elizabeth (Libbie) Clift Bacon will be re-enacted at 2:30 p.m.)
There’s a lot to learn about the life of Abraham Lincoln, Burns said. “I try to study a little bit every day.”
When an audience member asked Burns/Lincoln, “Why do you wear a beard?” he answered, “It all started here in Kansas.”
In October 1860, 11-year-old Grace Greenwood Bedell in Delphos saw a campaign photo of Lincoln and was inspired to write to him and urge him to grow a beard to improve his appearance. “All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President,” she wrote.
After the presentation Thursday, several audience members, including children, shook hands with the president and posed for photos with him. Burns shared a few artifacts and some word-search games for the children.
Honest Abe visits Great Bend Public Library