Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, these historic figures have greatly impacted the history of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Battle of Gettysburg has always been the main attraction but there is a lesser known side to Gettysburg’s story, the presidential side.
At the 1938 reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg, The Eternal Light Peace Memorial was erected to commemorate the 1913 reunion for the 50th anniversary of the battle. On July 3, 1938, during the 75th anniversary of the battle, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the Eternal Light Peace Memorial with a heart-felt speech aimed at continuing the peace between the north and the south. His speech concluded at sundown which was then followed by the unveiling of the memorial by one soldier from each side and lit to signify a continuity of peace.
This memorial was so powerful, it was the inspiration for President John F. Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery. Mrs. Jackie Kennedy got the idea from their visit to Gettysburg and President Kennedy’s admiration for the memorial.
One of the most hallowed and historic places in Pennsylvania, The Soldier’s National Cemetery is home to thousands of soldiers, stories of valor and a historic speech. Shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, local attorney David Wills, among others petitioned for a national cemetery in Gettysburg. After locals were scrambling to bury the dead soldiers anywhere they could, the State of Pennsylvania finally acted and purchased land along Baltimore Pike to create the cemetery. In November of 1863, after completion of the cemetery, President Abraham Lincoln and his fellow cabinet members traveled to Gettysburg to dedicate this hallowed ground.
On the afternoon of November 19, 1863, President Lincoln delivered a speech after a two-hour oration from Edward Everett. This speech was intended to be a “few appropriate remarks” but then turned into a two minute speech that would forever live in the history books, The Gettysburg Address.
After an illustrious career as an army general during World War II, President of Columbia University and Supreme Commander of NATO, Dwight D. Eisenhower and wife, Mamie Eisenhower were looking for a place to call home. While searching for a place to settle into, the Eisenhower’s looked to a place that was very familiar to them from President Eisenhower’s early military career when he was stationed near Gettysburg during World War I.
After speaking with friends who recommended them to come back to Gettysburg, The Eisenhower’s purchased a 189-acre farm less than a half a mile from the Gettysburg Battlefield. After purchasing this home, Eisenhower became President of the United States of America in 1953.
During their time on the farm, they had the pleasure of entertaining some very prominent guests, such as Premier Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union, President Charles de Gaulle of France, Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain, and Gov. Ronald Reagan of California. All were treated to a tour of the battlefield and a dinner party in Eisenhower’s favorite spot in the home, his sun room.
David Wills was born and raised in Adams County, Pennsylvania. He moved to Gettysburg in 1859 to open a law office after spending some of that year with Thaddeus Stevens in Stevens’ law office in Lancaster, Pa. Shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg concluded, David Wills became a prominent figure of the establishment of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg.
Once the cemetery was completed, a dedication day was to be held on November 19, 1863. On November 18, 1863, David Wills and his wife, Catherine invited President Abraham Lincoln and his dignitaries to dine with the Wills and stay as overnight guests. On this night, in David Wills’ bedroom (then Lincoln’s bedroom as a guest), Lincoln finished his speech known as the Gettysburg Address. Little did President Lincoln know, this speech would live in the annals of history.