Poem: "Kryptonite" by Ron Koertge, from Fever. © Red Hen Press. Reprinted with permission.
Lois liked to see the bullets bounce
off Superman's chest, and of course
she was proud when he leaned into
a locomotive and saved the crippled
orphan who had fallen on the tracks.
Yet on those long nights when he was
readjusting longitude or destroying
a meteor headed right for some nun,
Lois considered carrying just a smidgen
of kryptonite in her purse or at least
making a tincture to dab behind her ears.
She pictured his knees giving way,
the color draining from his cheeks.
He'd lie on the couch like a guy with
the flu, too weak to paint the front
porch or take out the garbage. She
could peek down his tights or draw
on his cheek with a ball point. She
might even muss his hair and slap
"Hey, what'd I do?" he'd croak just
like a regular boyfriend. At last.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the man who wrote the first great tell-all memoir: Saint Augustine, (books by this author) born in Tagaste, Numidia (354), a part of North Africa that is now Algeria. Though his mother was a Christian, and he'd grown up in the Christian Roman Empire, he'd spent much of his life dabbling in various pagan religions. He was living with a lower-class woman, having fathered a child out of wedlock, when he fell under the influence of Bishop Ambrose of Milan and suddenly converted to Christianity. He decided that he would abandon his secular life and devote himself to writing about Christian theology.
He was an extraordinarily prolific writer, publishing more than 90 books in his lifetime. But though he was widely read, he wasn't taken very seriously by other theologians. He couldn't read or write in Greek, which was the language of intellectuals, and he lived in a backwater part of the Roman Empire. His critics called him a "donkey protector," and said, "[He is] what passes for a philosopher with Africans."
Living on the edge of the empire, he was surrounded by renegade forms of Christianity. People who considered themselves Christians were also worshiping idols and consulting with fortune tellers. All these pagan influences were contributing to a huge diversity in Christian beliefs. Augustine became a famous theologian in part because he spoke out against this diversity, arguing that all Christian churches should follow the doctrine of the central church in Rome.
Augustine especially attacked the group of Christians known as Donatists, who believed that the only true Christians were those people who lived their lives completely free from sin. Augustine argued that no one could possibly be free from sin, because sinfulness is in the very nature of humans. He developed the idea of original sin, saying that all humans are born sinful because all humans are descended from Adam and Eve who committed the first sin.
Augustine used himself as an example of imperfection by writing The Confessions (c. 400), one of the first memoirs of Western literature. In that book, he described all the sins he had ever committed in the years of his life before his conversion, everything from crying over a fictional character in a poem, to stealing pears from a neighbor's tree, to his sexual fantasies and exploits.
In the last years of his life, Augustine was witnessing the fall of the Roman Empire. The city of Rome had already been captured by barbarians once, and Augustine's own city of Hippo was besieged by vandals. After his death, the city of Hippo was destroyed by the barbarians, but somehow Augustine's library survived. He'd spent his life defending Christianity against pagan influence, and his work went on to hold the Christian Church together throughout the medieval era. It is partially due to his writings that the Catholic Church did not break up into separate churches for almost a thousand years.
It's the birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson, (books by this author) born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1850). He began to suffer from a lung disease at a very early age. His nurse stayed up with him at night when he couldn't sleep and told him all kinds of stories about ghosts and monsters and pirates. He said, "My recollections of the long nights when I was kept awake by coughing are only relieved by thoughts of the tenderness of my nurse."
It's the birthday of the lawyer and associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Louis Brandeis, born in Louisville, Kentucky (1856). He was the man who introduced the concept of a right to privacy to American law.
His parents were Jewish immigrants from Prague, and as a teenager Brandeis lived in Dresden, Germany, for two years. But he preferred the United States. He said, "In Kentucky you could whistle." He came back to study law at Harvard and graduated at the top of his class. As a lawyer, he specialized in progressive causes, fighting for minimum wage laws and for anti-trust laws. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Brandeis to the Supreme Court. He was the first Jewish person to be nominated to the Supreme Court.
Twelve years later, Brandeis wrote the first Supreme Court opinion asserting a right to privacy in the case Olmstead v. United States. Federal agents had tapped the phone of a man named Olmstead who was selling whiskey illegally. The court ruled against Olmstead, since the Fourth Amendment says nothing about listening to a conversation as constituting a search or a seizure. But Brandeis wrote a dissenting opinion in which he said, "Constitutional amendments must have the capacity to adapt to a changing world. ... The progress of science in furnishing the government with the means of espionage is not likely to stop with wiretapping. ... Whenever a telephone line is tapped, the privacy of the persons at both ends is invaded."
Poem: "Interlude" by Linda Pastan, from Queen of a Rainy Country. © W. W. Norton & Company. Reprinted with permission.
We are waiting for snow
the way we might wait for a train
to arrive with its cold cargo
it is late already, but surely
it will come.
We are waiting for snow
the way we might wait
to breathe again.
For only the snow
will release us, only the snow
will be a letting go, a blind falling
towards the body of earth
and towards each other.
And while we wait at this window
whose sheer transparency
is clouded already
with our mutual breath,
it is as if our whole lives depended
on the freezing color
of the sky, on the white
soon to be fractured
gaze of winter.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of cartoonist and author and William Steig, (books by this author) born in New York City (1907). He sold his first cartoon for $40 to The New Yorker when he was 23. It was a picture of one prison inmate telling another, "My son's incorrigible, I can't do a thing with him." It was 1930, the beginning of the Great Depression, and Steig's father had lost his job. Steig said, "I wanted to go to sea like Melville," but he earned $4,500 his first year as a cartoonist, supporting the family. He went on to publish more than 1,600 drawings for the magazine and 117 covers.
Today he's best known for his book Shrek! (1993) about an ugly green ogre who hears the prophecy of a witch that he will marry a princess even uglier than he. It was made into an animated movie in 2002. His last book was When Everybody Wore a Hat, a picture-book memoir about what it was like to be eight years old in 1916.
It's the birthday of humorist and essayist P.J. (Patrick Jake) O'Rourke, (books by this author) born in Toledo, Ohio (1947). He's known for his political humor in books such as Give War a Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind's Struggle Against Tyranny, Injustice, and Alcohol-Free Beer (1992) and Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism, which came out in 2004. He wrote, "Wherever there's injustice, oppression, and suffering, America will show up six months late and bomb the country next to where it's happening."
It's the birthday of the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren (books by this author) born Astrid Ericsson on a farm near Vimmerby, Sweden (1907). She's the creator of Pippi Longstocking, a nine-year-old girl with no parents who lives in a red house at the edge of a Swedish village with her horse and her pet monkey, Mr. Nilsson. She has red pigtails, and she wears one black stocking and one brown, with black shoes twice as long as her feet. She eats whole chocolate cakes and sleeps with her feet on the pillow, and she's the strongest girl in the world.
On this day in 1851, Harper & Brothers published Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville (books by this author). The British publisher accidentally left out the ending of the book, the epilogue. This confused a lot of British readers, because without the epilogue there was no explanation of how Ishmael, the narrator, lived to tell the tale. It seemed like he died in the end with everyone else on the ship. The reviews from Britain were harsh, and costly to Melville. At the time, Americans deferred to British critical opinion, and a lot of American newspaper editors reprinted reviews from Britain without actually reading the American version with the proper ending. Melville had just bought a farm in Massachusetts, his debts were piling up, he was hiding them from his wife, and he was counting on Moby-Dick to bring in enough money to pay off his creditors. The book flopped, partly because of those British reviews. As a writer, Melville never recovered from the disappointment.
It's the birthday of one of the painters who helped invent Impressionism, Claude Monet, born in Paris (1840). He was one of the first painters to try painting outdoors, directly from nature. He and his friend Auguste Renoir later produced a series of paintings of bathers at a resort on the Seine River. They tried painting the bathers as quickly as they could, producing what Monet called "bad sketches," but that sketchy style became their signature. Some of those early bathing paintings survive today, and they still have beach sand embedded in the pigment.
Poem: "Little Prayer in November" by Lee Rudolph, from A Woman and a Man, Ice-Fishing. © Texas Review Press. Reprinted with permission.
Little Prayer in November
That I am alive, I thank
no one in particular;
and yet am thankful, mostly,
although I frame no prayer
but this one: Creator
Spirit, as you have come,
come again, even in November,
on these short days, fogbound.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 1777 that the American colonies, in the midst of a war for Independence, approved a final version of the Articles of Confederation. It was the first time in modern history that a complete system of government was drawn up and approved by a committee. The document began by naming the new country: The United States of America.
The debate over the Articles had begun in the summer of 1776, and it mainly concerned states' rights. At the time, the colonies still saw themselves as fairly separate entities, and each wanted to be able to create its own laws. Also, none of the colonies wanted to be pushed around by the other colonies once they were free and independent. Many of the people debating the new form of government were afraid that a strong central ruling body would become tyrannical, just like a king.
John Adams was one of the few people who imagined that the new country would be a single nation, not just an association of individual states. He was joined by Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Franklin, but they were overruled. The central government under the Articles of Confederation had no real power. It had no power to raise armies, no power to impose taxes, and no power to enforce laws it had passed.
The Articles of Confederation finally went into effect in 1781, a few months before the Revolutionary War ended. In the months after the end of the war, the soldiers who had fought for the revolution actually considered seizing power. They hadn't been paid in months, they were exhausted and bitter, and pamphlets began circulating, advocating an armed takeover of Congress. Congress would have been powerless to stop them, since it couldn't raise its own armies. The only thing that prevented the takeover was George Washington's sheer force of will. He showed up at a meeting of rebellious soldiers and spoke out against their plans, and they dispersed.
There were other attempts at armed rebellion under the Articles of Confederation, the most famous of which was a rebellion led by a man named Daniel Shays, which almost took over the state capital in Boston. Congress had no authority to help Massachusetts take any action against Shays' rebellion, and some worried that the rebellion would spread to other states.
It was ultimately Shays' Rebellion that changed a lot of minds about strong central government, and in the spring of 1787, delegates met to revise the Articles of Confederation, and the result was the Constitution we have today.
It was on this day in 1940 that 75,000 men were called to armed forces duty under the first peacetime conscription in American history.
The first real draft had been signed into law during the Civil War, but it was unpopular in part because rich men could hire replacements for the price of $300. The sense that poor Americans were being exploited helped to spark the anti-draft riots in New York City during the summer of 1863.
The draft wasn't used again until World War I, and that draft prohibited the practice of hiring replacements. But it was still largely unpopular. An estimated 3 million young men refused to register, and 12 percent of those called up didn't report for duty or deserted.
Franklin Roosevelt's decision to impose a draft in the summer of 1940 was especially controversial because the country wasn't even at war. But Americans had all seen newspaper and newsreel coverage of the German army rolling over Poland in a few weeks, and doing the same in France in a few months. By June of that year, Germans controlled most of the European continent, and the United States had a poorly trained standing army of only about 200,000 soldiers.
So even though he worried it might hurt his chances of re-election that November, Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the first peacetime draft in American history. That October, 16 million young men appeared at precinct election boards across the country to register with the Selective Service. The first lottery was held in Washington, D.C., and after the selection process, the first 75,000 draftees were called up to service on this day in 1940. In 1939, a poll had shown that only 35 percent of Americans approved of a draft, but by 1940 that support had gone up to 92 percent.
During World War II alone, the draft selected 19 million men and inducted 10 million. The draft lapsed briefly after World War II, but the Red Scare persuaded Truman to start it up again, and it continued until 1973.
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Poem: "Alcatraz" by Sharon Olds, from The Gold Cell. © Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission.
When I was a girl, I knew I was a man
because they might send me to Alcatraz
and only men went to Alcatraz.
Every time we drove to the city I'd
see it there, white as a white
shark in the shark-rich Bay, the bars like
milk-white ribs. I knew I had pushed my
parents too far, my inner badness had
spread like ink and taken me over, I could
not control my terrible thoughts,
terrible looks, and they had often said
that they would send me there-maybe the very next
time I spilled my milk, Ala
Cazam, the iron doors would slam, I'd be
there where I belonged, a girl-faced man in the
prison no one had escaped from. I did not
fear the other prisoners,
I knew who they were, men like me who had
spilled their milk one time too many,
not been able to curb their thoughts
what I feared was the horror of the circles: circle of
sky around the earth, circle of
land around the Bay, circle of
water around the island, circle of
sharks around the shore, circle of
outer walls, inner walls,
iron girders, steel bars,
circle of my cell around me, and there at the
center, the glass of milk AND the guard's
eyes upon me as I reached out for it.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the playwright George S. Kaufman, (books by this author) born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1889). Known as "the hitmaker" in his lifetime, he co-wrote more hit plays than anyone else in the history of Broadway, including Animal Crackers (1928), Strike Up the Band (1930), and You Can't Take It With You (1938).
Kaufman's mother was a severe hypochondriac, and he spent much of his childhood at the foot of her supposed deathbed, surrounded by nurses and psychologists. She wouldn't let him play with other children, for fear of germs, and she wouldn't let him drink milk either. The only beverage he was allowed was boiled water. He grew up extremely thin and extremely shy.
By the time he was an adult, he'd become obsessed with cleanliness of his person and his surrounding. He was terrified of being touched and he never shook hands. He was so afraid of dying in his sleep that he often didn't sleep for days.
But despite all his neuroses, he had a talent for writing humor. He got a column in The Washington Times, and he kept his job as a theater critic for years, even after he had begun writing and producing his own successful plays.
Of the dozens of plays Kaufman wrote in his lifetime, he only wrote one by himself. He said, "Collaboration is marriage without sex, and subject to many vexations. But pay no attention to them, because in one respect at least it is wonderful. The total result is frequently far more than the combined abilities of two people might give you."
He was such a meticulous rewriter and polisher, that he was never satisfied with a script even up till the last minute. Even on the most triumphant of opening nights, he could always be found backstage, pale and terrified that the play would be a flop.
It's the birthday of the novelist Andrea Barrett, (books by this author) born in Boston, Massachusetts (1954). She grew up on Cape Cod and spent most of her time near the ocean, fascinated by sea life. She decided to study biology in college and zoology in grad school. She went on to write about botanists, oceanographers and geologists in novels such as The Forms of Water (1993) and The Voyage of the Narwhal (1998).
Andrea Barrett said, "It's hard to explain how much one can love writing. If people knew how happy it can make you, we would all be writing all the time. It's the greatest secret of the world."
Poem: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 from The Geneva Bible. Public domain.
To all things there is an appointed time, and a time to
everie purpose under the heaven.
A time to be borne, and a time to dye: a time to plant, and
a time to plucke up that, which is planted.
A time to slay, and a time to heale: a time to breake
downe, and a time to buylde.
A time to wepe, and a time to laugh: a time to mourne, and
a time to dance.
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones: a
time to embrace, and a time to be farre from embracing.
A time to seke, and a time to lose: a time to kepe, and a
time to cast away.
A time to rent, and a time to sowe: a time to kepe
silence, and a time to speake.
A time to love, and a time to hate: a time of warre. And a
time of peace.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 1968 that NBC executives made one of the worst broadcasting decisions in the history of network television, interrupting their coverage of a football game between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets in order to show the scheduled movie, Heidi, about an orphaned girl who goes to live with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps.
There was one minute left in the game and the Jets were leading by 32 to 29, when NBC went to a commercial. No televised football game had ever gone longer than three hours before, and executives weren't sure what to do. Timex had paid a lot of money to advertise during Heidi, and network executives figured the Jets would win the game anyway, so after the commercial break, the movie began.
Football fans were enraged. So many people called to complain that the NBC telephone switchboard in New York City blew 26 fuses. People were right to complain. What they missed was the Raiders coming back to score two touchdowns in the final minute, winning the game 43 to 32.
It was that game, and the storm of protest by fans, that forced TV executives to realize how passionate the audience for football really was. Two years later, networks began showing football on Monday nights as well. And because of that game, the NFL now has a contract with the networks that all football games will be shown until their completion.
It was on this day in 1558 that the Elizabethan era began with the ascension of Queen Elizabeth I to the English throne. She took power at a time when England was a debt-ridden, divided country, and she set out to stabilize and restore England's status. She was a Protestant, but she gave Catholics the freedom to worship, which eased the tensions between Protestants and Catholics. But she also knew that her subjects wanted a monarch they could worship, and so she often went on walking tours in public so the ordinary people could see her dressed in the most elaborate of gowns and jewels. She commissioned portraits of herself, which would be widely distributed, and she hired balladeers to write songs about her.
She was always wary of getting into wars, but in 1580s it was clear that Spain planned to invade. When she got word that the Spanish Armada was sailing toward England, she rode out to rally the troops in a white gown and silver breastplate. Her advisors were terrified that she would expose herself to armed subjects, some of whom might not be loyal, but she refused to doubt her subjects loyalty, and those troops went on to defeat the Spanish Armada in one of the most famous naval battles in history.
She began building up England's empire by chartering seven companies, including the East India Company, to begin colonizing areas around the world. She also presided over an English renaissance in art and especially literature. Itinerant actors had been banned under previous monarchs, but Elizabeth allowed the legal operation of theaters, and the result was a new career for writers such as Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare.
She reigned for 45 years, one of the great eras in English history. Near the end of her reign, she said to her subjects: "Though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my crown: that I have reigned with your loves. And though you have had, and may have, many mightier and wiser princes sitting in this seat; yet you never had, nor shall have any that will love you better."
Poem: "Campbellsburg" by Reid Bush, from What You Know. © Larkspur Press. Reprinted with permission.
Driving State Road 60 northwest out of Salem,
10 miles out
and 10 before you come to Spring Mill Park
off to your rightfor just a blacktop minute
which was a town
when the man you were named for had his store there,
but a glance through your window reveals it's now gray abandonment
ugly sag and fall.
And you wonder who lives there now
and how anyone
even to have a brick store all his own
But nothing about it matters to you half as much as that your dad
came in from that hill farm to the north
to go to high school there.
And that's what you always point out to whoever's with you in the car.
And through the years what all your passengers have had in common is
no matter how you point it out
they can't care enough.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the man who helped invent the art of photography, Louis Daguerre, born just outside of Paris, France (1789). He studied to be an architect as a young man, but instead he went into theater set design. He was famous for the lifelike detail of his work, and he began to experiment with hand-painted translucent screens and elaborate lighting effects. He could use his screens and lights to create the illusion of a sunrise or a sudden storm onstage.
At the time, most painters were using a device called a camera obscura, which could cast a silhouette of an image onto a canvas for the artist to trace. But in the early 1800s, many scientists were looking for a way to capture the projected image forever. Daguerre wanted to do the same thing, and in 1829, he met an amateur inventor named Joseph Niépce, who had developed a light-sensitive pewter plate that could hold the image projected onto it. But the images took eight hours to develop, and the quality was extremely poor. Niépce died before he could improve the process.
Daguerre spent the next few years expanding on Niépce's experiments, and he eventually came up with a combination of copper plate coated with silver salts that could be developed in about 30 minutes with the application of mercury vapor and table salt. He then set out to take a series of pictures of Paris, capturing images of the Louvre and Notre Dame. The camera needed about 15 minutes of exposure time to capture an image, so most of Daguerre's early pictures don't show any people. The one exception is a picture of a boulevard that shows a man in the foreground who has stopped to shine his shoes. He was the first human being ever caught on film.
Daguerre announced his invention in 1839, and the images he produced became known as daguerreotypes. It wasn't photography as we know it today, because it only produced a single unique image, rather than multiple copies of the same image. But people were amazed at the level of detail it could reproduce.
Louis Daguerre said, "I have seized the light. I have arrested its flight."
It's the birthday of novelist and poet Margaret Atwood, (books by this author) born in Ottawa, Ontario (1939). Her father was an entomologist who spent every year from April to November studying insects at a forestry research station in northern Quebec. Atwood said, "At the age of six months, I was carried into the woods in a packsack, and this landscape became my hometown." She had no access to television or movies, and few children to play with. So she spent all her time exploring the woods and reading.
She only began to attend full-time school in Toronto when she was 11 years old. She wrote, "I was now faced with real life, in the form of other little girlstheir prudery and snobbery, their Byzantine social life based on whispering and vicious gossip, and an inability to pick up earthworms without wriggling all over and making mewing noises like a kitten."
Atwood decided she wanted to be a writer at a time when there was almost no such thing as Canadian literature. There was actually a year in the early 1960s when a total of only five Canadian novels were published in the whole country. Her first novel, The Edible Woman, came out in 1969. The Handmaid's Tale became an international best-seller in 1985.
It's the birthday of American statistician George Gallup (1901), born in Jefferson, Iowa. He was a pioneer in scientific polling techniques, and his name became a household word synonymous with the opinion poll. He found that small samples of the populace could predict general attitudes. He gained recognition for accurately predicting Franklin Roosevelt's victory over Alf Landon in 1936.
Poem: "Philosophy" by Daniel Hoffman, from Makes You Stop and Think: Sonnets. © George Braziller. Reprinted with permission.
In sophomore year the great philosopher,
Then ninety, out of retirement came, to pass
His wisdom on to one more generation.
Reading his last lecture to our class,
That afternoon the mote-filled sunlight leaned
Attentively with purpose through the tall
Windows in amber buttresses that seemed
To gird the heavens so they wouldn't fall.
The blaze of his white mane, his hooded eyes,
The voice that plumbed us from reflection's skies
So far above temptation or reward
The scene has never left my mind. I wrote
His lecture down, but, in an old trunk, my notes
Have crumbled, and I can't recall a word.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the poet Sharon Olds, (books by this author) born in San Francisco (1942). Olds studied as many languages as she could in college, including French, Italian, German, Greek, and Middle English. She went on to get a Ph.D. in American Literature at Columbia. She spent 10 years trying to write good poetry, but she felt that she was just imitating other poets. Then, when she was 30 years old, she said, "I had kind of a religious experience. I made a vow to Satan on the steps of Columbia University. ... I said, I will give up all I have learned here if I can just write my own poems and I don't care if they're good. I just want to write my own stuff."
A few years later, Olds was still struggling when she heard about a writing workshop that would be held at the local YMCA with the poet Muriel Rukeyser. It turned out to be the last class that Muriel Rukeyser taught, and Olds said that it changed her life. She said that Rukeyser's advice was to write about the things that they tell you to forget.
She finally published her first book of poems, Satan Says, in 1980, when she was 37. She said, "I was a late bloomer. But anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky."
Olds has since published many more collections including The Dead and the Living (1984), The Father (1992), and Blood, Tin, Straw (1999).
It was on this date in 1861 that Mrs. Julia Ward Howe sat down and wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The poem was first published in the February 1862 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, and later set to the popular melody "Glory Hallelujah."
It was on this day in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln (books by this author) got up in front of about 15,000 people seated at a new national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and delivered the Gettysburg Address.
The men killed in the battle had been buried hastily in shallow graves with haphazard wooden markers, but in the months since the battle, a man named David Wills oversaw the task of identifying and burying the dead properly. There would be a ceremony to dedicate the new cemetery, and Wills invited the most popular poets of the day to write something in honor of the occasion they all declined. So David Wills invited Edward Everett, a well-known speaker who was famous for his speeches about battlefields.
It was almost as an afterthought that Wills decided to invite President Lincoln to the ceremony, and Lincoln chose to attend the ceremony even though his wife begged him not to. One of their sons was sick, and they had recently lost another son to illness. But Lincoln thought the event was too important to miss. It would give him a chance to clarify the reasons for continuing to fight the war, even as it continued to claim tens of thousands of lives.
No one is sure exactly when Lincoln wrote his speech. Most people who knew him said that he spent a great deal of time writing every public statement he ever made, so he probably composed the first draft in Washington D.C. Witnesses said they saw him working on the speech on the train ride to Pennsylvania, and others said that they saw him working in his room the night before the event."
It was a foggy, cold morning on this day in 1863. Lincoln arrived about 10 a.m. Around noon the sun broke out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator Edward Everett spoke for more than two hours. At that time, a two-hour speech was quite normal. Everett described the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, and he brought the audience to tears more than once.
When Everett was finished, Lincoln got up, and pulled his speech from his coat pocket. It consisted of 10 sentences, a total of 272 words. The audience was distracted by a photographer setting up his camera, and by the time Lincoln had finished his speech and sat down the audience didn't even realize he had spoken. But the speech was reprinted in newspapers around the country, and it went on to become one of the most important speeches in American history.