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PHILADELPHIA — When Michael Jacobs, a professor at Pennsylvania College — now Gettysburg College — chose to let Edward Everett use his personal lectern for his two-hour speech, Jacobs had no idea this simple piece of wooden furniture would be used by a president and a pope almost 152 years apart.
The lectern became a piece of history when President Abraham Lincoln delivered his “Gettysburg Address” from it during the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery Nov. 19, 1863.
Since that time, only one other person is known to have used it, and that was when the “Gettysburg Address” was read from it during the 150th celebration in front of 500 people two years ago at the Union League in Philadelphia.
Now, Pope Francis will use this stand for his speech in front of Independence Hall Sept. 26 as part of the 2015 World Meeting of Families.
“(Lincoln and Pope Francis) are both very shrewd men and they understand the way the world works,” said Jim Mundy, director of education and programming for the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League. “They were both religious men and they were both, I think, very humble men. The connection between them is in the simplicity of this lectern. If you look at it, it’s just a simple piece of furniture. You put all that together and it just seems it was meant to be.”
Since Lincoln used the lectern, it returned home with Jacobs before J. Howard Wert, a scout in the Union Army during the Civil War, received the stand from Jacobs to add his collected of Civil War artifacts he picked up from the Gettysburg battlefield.
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“The J. Howard Wert Gettysburg Collection stayed in the Wert family until the early 1960s, at the request of J. Howard Wert,” Mundy said. “He wanted to keep (the collection) intact.”
When the remaining members of the Wert family passed away, they sold the collection to a friend of the family with the same promise to keep the collection together.
From there, a history teacher from Harrisburg bought the collection around 1972 and still owns it to this day — lectern included.
“In 2012, as we were planning to put together our 1863 exhibit (at the Union League), it was tough to borrow Gettysburg items because everyone wanted to keep their own stuff for their own exhibits,” Mundy said. “Luckily, I’ve known the owner of the collection for about 20 years and gave him a call. Lo and behold, no one had asked him to borrow anything.”
The owner of the collection not only allowed the Union League to use the lectern as part of its 1863 exhibit, but has allowed them to hold onto it long-term for display.
Two Union League members are involved with the upcoming World Meeting of Families and, after walking past the lectern, came up with the idea of having the pontiff use the symbolic stand.
“Once we contacted the owner, he was more than happy to give his permission,” Mundy said.
The lectern, which sits behind a glass display case, will be moved by a professional moving company which deals with historic objects.
For extra precautions, the company is building a crate specifically for the lectern.
The lectern will return to the Union League for visitors to see — and with an updated plaque.
“We’ll change the label to reflect it’s most current user,” Mundy said. “We’ll do all that good stuff, but it will still be a plain, simple lectern.”
Pope Francis will deliver his speech in front of Independence Hall — ironically enough, just about the same place Lincoln delivered a speech in 1861.
“Abraham Lincoln, when he traveled by train from Springfield to Washington for his inauguration in early 1861, stopped in Philadelphia,” Mundy said. “On the morning of Feb. 22, he gave a speech right at the front door of Independence Hall.”
The visit to Independence Hall will be Sept. 26 at 4:45 p.m. and will be open to the public. The pontiff will speak about religious freedom and immigration.
It is almost fitting the pontiff will discuss religious freedom from the same stand where Lincoln proclaimed a new freedom in the United States.
“This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom,” Lincoln said in 1863. “And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”