OLEAN — One thousand voices will commemorate the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on Tuesday, Nov. 19 at the Olean High School auditorium.
In unison that morning, students in grades seven through 12 will recite those 269 brief words forever etched in American history Nov. 19, 1863. The speech itself — given to dedicate Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pa., “four score and seven years” after the Declaration of Independence — stated “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here.”
But the world did remember, leading retired Olean City School District history teacher Janine Scholla to join current and former teachers in organizing the “1,000 Voices” event.
An original intent was to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people reciting the address in once place. Mrs. Scholla said Guinness officials informed her, however, the effort would have come up roughly 29,000 people short.
“We weren’t going to be able to do that within the confines of the district,” Mrs. Scholla told the Times Herald on Sunday.
Nonetheless, they’ve decided to move forward. Included in the assembly, Civil War re-enactors and local Civil War expert Earl McElfresh will offer students a valuable perspective not easily learned in the classroom, Mrs. Scholla said.
“We look at the Gettysburg Address as something as time honored. In 269 words it tells the meaning of our existence as a nation and what we’re about as a nation,” Mrs. Scholla said. “It didn’t get good reviews when (President Lincoln) first gave it. The Chicago Tribune tore him apart and said it was an embarrassment. It wasn’t seen as what it is today.
“Maybe we need to be aware of that for things going on in our society today. I think kids ... and everybody in attendance will learn things they didn’t know before.”
And at 1 p.m. that day, the public is invited to join select students and school staffers in a wreath-laying ceremony at Lincoln Park’s Civil War Memorial.
“We’re going to put a wreath there and have somebody say a few words. We have a color guard from the Allegany American Legion coming,” Mrs. Scholla said. “Jason Fox, our band director from the high school, is going to play taps. If anybody in the public wants to come, it’ll be very short.”
Mrs. Scholla noted current Olean High history teachers Katie Wolfgang and Matt Perry as well as retired history teachers Jean Abdo and Harry Wolfrom helped to organize the assembly. Mr. Wolfrom is slated to lead the recitation of the Gettysburg Address.
Also during the event, OHS music director Jan Rhody will lead the choir in the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The orchestra will perform Jay Unger’s “Ashokan Farewell,” which was heard in a Civil War series that aired on PBS.
Mr. Perry’s AP U.S. History class will read excerpts from soldiers’ diaries. And Olean High teacher Chris Stavish’s classes have compiled a marketing campaign to promote the day’s events within the school.
“The idea was we had to do something like (the marketing campaign) to energize the kids,” Mrs. Scholla said.
Mrs. Scholla retired after the 2012-13 school year while still planning the 150th anniversary celebration. Remaining teachers and administrators, she said, didn’t want to see the plan die.
“I thought it would be kind of fun to do — 150 years is something that needs to be noticed,” she said. “To be honest, I don’t know if I could have pulled this off if I had to do all the things I had to do when I was teaching. Now that I’m retired, I’m just finishing up this project.”
(Contact reporter Kelsey M. Boudin at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @KelseyMBoudin)