Riverside will be the place to be for Abraham Lincoln scholars, amateur historians and average townspeople when Riverside Township presents a discussion of Gettysburg Replies, a collection of essays on Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan 23 in Township Hall, 27 Riverside Road.

Presenters will be Dr. Carla Knorowski, chief executive officer of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation and editor of the book, and Dr. James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. 

The seed for Gettysburg Replies was planted in 2012 when officials of the foundation and the museum and library started planning their celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address the following year. 

“We wanted to do something extra special for the anniversary,” Knorowski explained.

They challenged presidents, judges, historians, filmmakers, poets, actors and others to craft 272 words – the number of words in the Gettysburg Address – to celebrate Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address or a related topic that stirred their passions.

Although invitations were extended to some and a competition was offered to students, they also opened the challenge up to everybody via their newsletter and social media.

“People say the address is great, which it is,” Knorowski said. “But we wanted people to walk a mile in Lincoln’s shoes. And we wanted people from all walks of life.”

The response was overwhelming, with more than 1,000 submissions received, including those from every living U.S. president. Submissions also were received from outside the Unites States, including from Lech Walesa, former president of the Republic of Poland; Richard Carwardine, noted historian from the United Kingdom; and Babalwa Mhlauli of South Africa, whose father, Scelo Mhlauli, was assassinated for his antiapartheid activism in South Africa.

As if matching the number of words Lincoln used in his original address did not make submitters feel they had walked a mile in Lincoln’s shoes, foundation officials also asked that essays be handwritten as Lincoln’s was.

Fifty to 80 of the essays were displayed throughout the museum and library in Springfield, and officials originally had not intended to publish a book.

However, according to Knorowski, people who saw the exhibit wanted to know where they could read more of the essays and “it kind of snowballed.”

Officials chose 100 essays for the book, the full title of which is Gettysburg Replies. The World Responds to Abraham Lincoln’s Address. Published in April 2015, more than 10,000 copies have already been sold.

Cornelius said the focus of the Riverside presentation will be the book and the museum and library, he has found such talks have helped scholars such as him learn more about Lincoln from attendees, who relate stories of their own family histories regarding Lincoln.

“We’re still learning about Lincoln and gaining a fuller sense of who the man was,” he said. “We’re still finding previously unknown writings.

“We’re also gaining new knowledge about his family members, especially his wife, Mary, and their son, Robert.

“It’s easy to talk about Lincoln,” Cornelius said. “He’s endlessly fascinating.”

Township Trustee Mary Rob Clarke said the topic for this presentation came from a suggestion by a resident. Previous presentations have been on child Holocaust survivors, the Eastland disaster and a speaker whose parents were in an internment camp during World War II.

“The township is very pleased to do this,” she added. 

Refreshments will be served at the free program, which is the latest in a series of presentations sponsored by Riverside Township. 

Additional information about the program is available by calling the Riverside Township office at 708-477-4400.