An Address at Gettysburg

On this date, November 19, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

I heard or read the speech several times in school, but I don’t think its importance or powerful brevity made a strong impression on me then. Now considered one of the greatest speeches in American history, it is often taught in public speaking courses. Students are surprised at its brevity, which is part of its power.

As an adult, I visited the cemetery and battlefield. Though it is now a National Park Service tourist attraction with buildings, parking lots, and a gift shop, walking along the battlefield still had a kind of hard-to-describe power.

Gouverneur Warren Monument atop Little Round Top

November 19 was four and a half months after the battle, and it was a foggy, cold morning. Lincoln arrived at about 10 a.m. Around noon, the sun came out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, and a local preacher offered a long prayer. Surprisingly, Lincoln was not considered to be the headlining orator. That was Edward Everett who spoke for more than two hours and described the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail. When Everett finished, Lincoln spoke.

“Four score 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.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address ran for just over two minutes. It is less than 300 words. Ten long sentences. It was so brief, that many of the 15,000 people that attended the ceremony didn’t even realize that the president had spoken.

The next day, Everett told Lincoln, “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

On the train trip from Washington, D.C. to Gettysburg on November 18, Lincoln remarked to a member of his cabinet that he felt weak. Several people who accompanied the President reported that he had been dizzy the next morning and that his face had “a ghastly color” and that he was “sad, mournful, almost haggard.” After the speech, when Lincoln boarded the 6:30pm train to return to Washington, D.C., he was feverish and weak with a severe headache, and when he returned to the White House, he was diagnosed with a mild case of smallpox.

The Address inscribed on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial

There are several versions of the speech because five different manuscript copies exist and they vary slightly. Lincoln gave copies to both of his private secretaries, and the other three versions were re-written by the president after he made the speech. The Bliss Copy, named for Colonel Alexander Bliss, is the only copy that was signed and dated by Lincoln, and it’s generally accepted as the official version for that reason.

The last time I felt the power of his address was when I read it as it is inscribed on the Lincoln Memorial on a trip to Washington, DC in November of 2016. It was just after the election of President Trump. I, and many Americans, were wondering how differently Lincoln’s words would be interpreted by different groups of people today.

Link to an NPS Virtual Tour of Gettysburg National Military Park

The “Valley of Death” and Devil’s Den as viewed from the statue of General Warren
on Little Round Top, Phot: NPS, 1910.

Applejack and Jersey Lightning


A Scotsman in New Jersey back in 1780 named William Laird established America’s first distillery. He made an aged apple brandy that was called Applejack. It is still sold (as Laird’s Applejack), and as a born and bred New Jerseyan, I feel it an obligation to always have a bottle on hand.

I grew up in a home where there wasn’t a lot of booze. We had some beer in the summer (the Pabst, Schaefer, Rheingold, Piels and Budweiser of the NJ of that time), the odd whiskey sours for an “occasion,” but there was always brandy and schnapps. Brandy is distilled from many fruits. The fancier stuff  – French Cognac, Armagnac, Peruvian Pisco – comes from grapes, but my parents liked blackberry or peach brandy.  Laird’s sells an apple brandy (100 proof), while the Applejack is 35% apple brandy and 65% neutral spirits.

Schnapps also refers to fruit brandies, herbal liqueurs, infusions, and “flavored liqueurs.”  They are made by adding fruit syrups, spices, or flavorings to neutral grain spirits. We always had some peppermint schnapps on hand for “medicinal” purposes. That was a tradition my mother’s Austrian family brought with them. I still  keep a bottle in the house, just in case. “Schnapps” comes from the German word “schnappen“, which refers to the fact that the spirit or liquor drink is usually consumed in a quick slug from a small shot glass.

I heard about Laird’s Applejack in an undergraduate history class at Rutgers and bought my first bottle soon after.

When the Lairds established America’s first commercial distillery in the tiny community of Scobeyville, NJ, they obtained License #1 for a distillery in the state. Back then, Applejack was also imbibed in an unaged form dubbed Jersey Lightning. Laird released an official unaged Jersey Lightning in 2014.

The family tradition is even older. In 1698 Alexander Laird, a County Fife Scotsman, emigrated from Scotland to America with his sons Thomas and William. William settled in Monmouth County, New Jersey. William probably was making scotch back in the old country, but here he turned his skills to using the abundant apples of the New World.

Robert Laird was a Revolutionary War soldier serving under George Washington, and the Laird family supplied the troops with Applejack. Historical records show that, prior to 1760, George Washington wrote to the Laird family requesting their recipe for producing Applejack. The family gave it to him and entries appear in Washington’s diary regarding his production of “cyder spirits.”


I didn’t know that Abraham Lincoln had a “saloon” in New Salem, Illinois. His menu of 1833 shows Apple Brandy sold at 12 cents a half-pint. A half-pint would get you pretty mellow, so a night’s lodging would cost another 12-1/2 cents, and a meal was a hefty 25 cents.

An article in New Jersey Monthly gave some modern apple brandy drinks (Born to Run, Lincoln Park Swizzle, Ol ’55), but I say they have too many fancy ingredients (Aquavit, Framboise, Falernum, Peychauds) to seem like a real Jersey drink that honors the spirit’s traditions.

I have been known to move a Manhattan across the river by using some Applejack, and my wife likes a Jumping Jack (1.5 oz. Laird’s AppleJack, 1 oz. chilled espresso and .5 oz. cinnamon syrup). But most of the time the Applejack or brandy is either straight up or on the rocks just as it comes from the bottle, or, in winter, used in the hot toddies my Aunt Millie taught me to make. After all, traditions are traditions. And, yes, since I had to take a photo of the bottle, I did have some Applejack while I was typing this.

The Minute The Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still was released in 1951, but I didn’t see it until it appeared on TV sometime in the late 50s. I don’t remember much about those before-kindergarten days, but I remember seeing that film on TV because the story came true for my family.

It is a black-and-white science fiction tale of an alien (but humanoid) visitor who comes to Earth.  His flying saucer lands in  Washington, D.C., and from the saucer emerges Klaatu. He says he has come to Earth on a goodwill mission, but then he shows a weird and frightening device. Just as he was about to do something with it, our TV set blew up. It was the minute the Earth stood still for me. There was smoke and sparks and it scared my mom and dad and my older sister. It terrified me because I was sure it was the alien’s doing.

It was afternoon, so we didn’t realize at first that the event had also knocked out our house’s power – which is exactly what aliens would do to us. My father unplugged the TV and fanned away the smoke and set upon the set’s tubes with his usual enthusiasm.

I tried to get them to acknowledge that the alien had done it, but no one would listen. (This would allow me to identify with poor Doctor Bennell a few years later in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers when no one would listen to him.)

Of course, no one else on our block lost power. It was just a movie.

I eventually saw the rest of the movie and it turned out that right, when our TV blew up was when Klaatu was shot and wounded by a soldier who panicked at the sight of that device.  Then a big robot called Gort emerges and zaps all earthlings’ weapons – but the humans are unhurt.

The device Klatuu had was actually a powerful tool to study other planets and was a gift for our President. Klaatu is taken to a hospital and recovers and later escapes custody. No one can enter the saucer where Gort remains. Like many American films of that period, the Russians are suspected.

I watched the film again recently (and my TV survived the viewing) and it surprised me that what made Klaatu begin to believe that there was hope for us. There is a visit to a grave in Arlington National Cemetery where many of those buried died because of wars. What gives him hope for Earth is a visit to the Lincoln Memorial. What impresses Klaatu is the inscription of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Abraham Lincoln is getting a lot of attention lately, both because of the 200th anniversary of his birth, and because of President Obama’s interest in him. There are Lincoln-Obama comparisons being made.

It probably started when Obama chose to announce his candidacy for the presidency on Lincoln’s birthday in 2006. And where did this other skinny, big-eared Illinoisan choose as the setting for that announcement? The Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech in 1858 and where he had his headquarters as president-elect.

Other comparisons:

  • Both were believed too inexperienced to be president.
  • Excellent rhetoricians
  • Both wrote their own speeches (for Obama, at least drafts of the big ones – too many speeches these days) and write by hand.
  • Obama’s Inauguration theme came from a line in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “A New Birth of Freedom.”
  • Obama, when asked by Katie Couric which book, aside from the Bible, he would find essential in the Oval Office, answered, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
  • Both wrote best-selling books – Lincoln’s was an edition of his Lincoln-Douglas debates. Obama has Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.
  • Both won fame from their oratory.
  • Both got into political trouble over their church affiliations (Of course, Lincoln left his church too soon; Obama didn’t leave soon enough.)
  • Both promised their small children a White House pet. (The Lincolns actually left their dog Fido behind and Willie and Tad Lincoln ended up with cats, turkeys and ponies.)
  • Here’s a really odd connection – they both made one final visit before their presidencies with the women, neither one a natural mother, who helped raise them. (Obama to Honolulu to see his gravely ill grandmother right before Election Day; Lincoln, right before Inauguration Day, visited rural Charleston, Illinois, to say goodbye to his aged stepmother – who ironically outlived him.)

Of course, there are also differences. Barack Obama scored an impressive victory, but the country was divided bitterly over Lincoln’s 39 percent plurality in a four-person race. The division was great enough that the Electoral College validation was questioned into the inauguration in 1861, and 7 Southern states seceded rather than accept a Lincoln presidency. Does this sound at all familiar?

Obama was educated at Columbia University and Harvard Law, but Lincoln was famously seld-educated. Lincoln was a Republican, the other is a Democrat.

Back at the movies, Klaatu did end up cutting off all of the electric power for half an hour (as I had told my father would happen) and brought the world to a standstill.

Spolier 1: Klaatu is “killed.” Spoler 2: Gort retrieves Klaatu’s corpse and brings him back to life.

Klaatu puts on his best Presidential oratory style and tells humanity that our penchant for violence frightens the other intelligent life out there. He warns the people of Earth that if they extend their violence into space, the robots will destroy Earth. “The decision rests with you,” he says before he departs.

The film censor at 20th Century Fox back in 1951 didn’t like the Christ symbolism of Klaatu’s resurrection, and Gort’s power over life and death, so ttey added dialogue so that Klaatu explains that he has only been revived temporarily by advanced medical science and says that the power of resurrection is “reserved to the Almighty Spirit”.

Ray Bradbury actually wrote an outline for a sequel in 1981 that was commissioned by a studio. His script for The Day the Earth Stood Still II: The Evening of the Second Day was never filmed. There was a remake of the film in 2008 with Keanu Reeves. Watch the original version.