The prompt for the Writers Group this week was “ At what historical event would you have have wanted to be present.” Following is a fictional account of the event I would have been at.
I will not waste words on the preparations made for the trip I am about to describe, that’s another story in itself and probably better suited for the eyes and ears of physicists due to its highly technical nature. I will say that my journey began with the purchase of a 200 year old farm with a large barn in Cashtown, PA, population 450 souls and a mere stones throw from Gettysburg. I had studied the writings of H.G. Wells for a good many years, so the barn served me well and I was able to design and construct a vehicle that would enable me to travel through time. Given the astronomical technological advances which have occurred since Welles era, my time machine was of vastly superior capabilities. I performed three successful test runs, which allowed me to become a somewhat familiar figure amongst the local populace. I explained away my prolonged absences by saying I travelled extensively, lecturing on matters of a scientific nature. My three test journeys transported me back to December of 1862, May and September of 1863. On my visits, I shrewdly established a relationship with one David Wills, a Gettysburg attorney of renown with many political attachments. My next trip would transport me to the month of November, 1863, more specifically to November 19th, to be part of the audience of the one event that I had been most desirous of attending, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Allowing myself some extra time to become acclimated and secure prime points of observation, I successfully arrived a few days before the schedule event.
Things were all hustle bustle in Gettysburg over the upcoming dedication of the cemetery established for those who fell in the July battle. My first order of business was to visit the office of lawyer Wills to let him know I would be in town for a few days. Under the pretense that I was unaware of what was about to occur, I asked if Wills would like to join me for dinner one evening. He could barely contain himself and he began to rock in his chair. With twinkle in his eye and with a rush of words he exclaimed, “I can do you one better! I am inviting you to my home, sir, to be one of my guests in entertaining his Excellency, the President of the United States! Yes sir! Mr. Lincoln himself!” I knew from history that Lincoln stayed at Mr. Wills house, it exceeded my wildest imagination that I would soon be in the same space as the great man.
I also knew from history that besides Lincoln and Secretary of State, William Seward, Mr. Wills had invited close to 40 dignitaries to his home for dinner. Edward Everett, the featured speaker of the dedication ceremony was already at the Wills house when I arrived. I moved towards the back of the parlor, my plan was to remain as low key as possible and be a virtual wall flower at this event. I was thrilled to be just present and to listen. My plan began to go sideways when Lincoln and Seward walked into the parlor. I gasped so loudly, several people turned to look at me with raised eyebrows. Lincoln began to greet everyone. “I’ll be damned”, I uttered a bit too loudly, “Daniel Day Lewis nailed Lincoln’s voice!” Then I let out a large sob. More people heard this, the French Admiral standing next to me asked me if I was unwell. Even worse, President Lincoln heard me and looked right at me. It was not hard to pick me out of the group, next to him, I was the second tallest person in the parlor. Attorney Wills navigated Lincoln through the crowd. Stopping in front of me, Mr. Wills said, “Mr. President, please meet my friend, Dr. Lazlo, a noted Hungarian physicist.” I had been using the name Lazlo as my alias on these time travels.
Daniel Day, I mean, Mr.Lincoln said, “It is a pleasure to meet you Dr.Lazlo. Who is this Day Lewis you mentioned? Nailed you said? Is he a carpenter? Never mind, I may have a question or two for you later after dinner. A pleasure to meet you sir.” Mr. Wills winked at me and took Lincoln to meet the others in the room.
After dinner, Mr.Lincoln did seek me out. He said it is not often he is able to almost look someone in the eye without having to look down. I laughed at his joke. I told him I was looking forward to hearing his speech the next day. He replied humbly, “It’s just a few lines. Everett is speaking first, I doubt anyone will ever remember my words.” I almost blurted out, “You have no idea sir…”, but I caught myself and just said, “History will decide.” Lincoln thought about that for a moment. A wry smile made the wrinkles on his face deeper. He said, “here is the speech I would like to give, it’s General Lee’s Invasion of the North, Written by Himself,
“In 1863 with pomp,
And mighty swell
Me and Jeff’s Confederacy, went
Forth to sack Philadel
They Yankees they got after us
And gave us particular hell
And we skedaddled back again
And didn’t sack Philadel…” (limerick written by Lincoln after Battle of Gettysburg)
We both had a hearty laugh. Lincoln then excused himself. Shaking my hand he said, “I have to go and finish my real speech, I am going to get Seward’s opinion on it. I hope you will find it worthwhile Dr. Lazlo.” He turned to walk away and I whispered, “Don’t go to the play.” He looked back at me with a puzzled expression, gave a slight nod and off he went to find Seward.
I didn’t sleep a wink in anticipation of the historic event that would enfold the following day.
The pomp and circumstance of the procession to the cemetery was interesting to see from the standpoint of, in 1863, there was no Secret Service to surround the President. He had virtually no “security” detail. I endured Edward Everett’s 2 ½ hour oratory, which almost nobody remembers. Then it was time for Lincoln to speak. He pulled a couple of sheets of folded paper from one pocket, his glasses from another. He looked at the crowd, then at the graves of 1,200 men who “gave their last full measure of devotion.” I began to swallow hard. Quaking with emotion, with tears streaming down my face, I stood in awe at the edge of the stage as Abraham Lincoln proceeded gave one of the greatest and most influential speeches in history.
Then it was over. A wave of realization crashed over me, as strong as the wave of emotion I felt hearing this monumental speech. I needed to leave the cemetery and leave now. I pretended to not hear attorney Wills calling my name and melted into the crowd. Securing a carriage, I directed the driver to use side streets to reach the road that would take me to Cashtown. Deep in thought, I did not realize we had reached our destination until the carriage lurched to a halt. I waited until the carriage was out of sight before entering the barn. Climbing in to the time machine, I knew what I had to do. I came oh, so close to changing history. As desperately as I wanted to, I knew that I couldn’t. However, I didn’t trust my emotions getting the better of me and feared I would do something foolish if I met President Lincoln again. This would be the last journey I would make through time.
I would journey to Gettysburg to hear the greatest speech ever written recited once again. However, it would be on November 19, 2013, 150 years later. Standing with our son Geoff near the stage in the National Cemetery, we listened to a Lincoln re-enactor present the Gettysburg Address. I felt the same wave of emotion I did when I heard it given by Lincoln himself.
Chatham Writers Group
4 thoughts on “Time Traveler”
Really terrific tale! Felt like I was with you. Worried I might give away my era and spoil history too. “Don’t go to the play” – nice line. Nice nod to Daniel Abe Lewis too.
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Hi John! I hope all is well and we missed you on Monday. Thank you very much for your kind words. This is the full length version. I reduced it to just over a 1000 words for the reading. I hope to see you next week. Best wishes, Ernie
I enjoyed your story, I always like time machine stories.
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