BANGOR, Maine — Abraham Lincoln never set foot in Maine during his lifetime, but he and his first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, visited the Queen City on Saturday for the rededication of the Civil War Memorial in Mount Hope Cemetery.
Vice-President Hannibal Hamlin and his wife, Ellen Hamlin, who lived in Bangor when not in Washington, D.C., were at the first couple’s side.
“We are gathered here in this place of eternal rest, to dedicate this monument to the 55 brave Unions soldiers who have given that last full measure of devotion to the preservation of this precious union and to honor their supreme sacrifice,” said Lincoln, played by Orono resident Jerry Livengood.
“My few words here today in this peaceful place, Mount Hope Cemetery, now one score and 10 years old, should be long remembered, but this granite marker will still speak for us long after we have all turned to dust.”
The event is one of several being held in Bangor this year to mark the city’s 175th anniversary. Participants included the Bangor Band, the Sons and Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the 20th Maine Regiments and the 6th Heavy Artillery, state historian Earle Shettleworth Jr., and members of the Bangor City Council.
While Livengood portrayed the president, Elizabeth Stevens of Bangor played Lincoln’s wife, Mary. Livengood, the general manager of Bangor Gas, did not break character even after the event ended, when he said that he is “5 feet, 17½ inches” tall.
David Gould of Winterport, who is also a planning officer with the city of Bangor, portrayed Hamlin, and Sandra Burke of Dedham played Hamlin’s second wife, Ellen Hamlin. The couple placed a wreath near the tombstone of Hamlin’s first wife, Sarah Hamlin, who died of consumption in 1856. Ellen Hamlin was Sarah’s half-sister.
Mount Hope Cemetery, bordered by Route 2 and Mount Hope Avenue, is the same age as the city, Bangor Mayor Gerry Palmer said Saturday.
In addition to the Civil War Memorial, called the Solders’ Monument when it was consecrated on June 17, 1864, the cemetery is Hamlin’s burial site and home to the Memorial to the 2nd Maine Regiment of Volunteers.
Also on Saturday, a brief ceremony was held at the vice president’s grave and twin red oak trees were planted at the 2nd of Maine’s memorial. Hamlin’s 200th birthday will be Aug. 27. He died at the age of 81 on July 4, 1891, while playing cards at the Tarrantine Club in Bangor.
A reproduction of the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier dated June 18, 1864 was handed out Saturday.
It reported on the original ceremony that an “immense crowd was in front and on either side of the Monument, while the grove on the verdant hill side was filled with groups, reclining in comfortable position to view the varied and beautiful scene; although, perhaps, somewhat out of the reach of the voices of the orators.”
The crowd Saturday was much smaller and people did not have trouble hearing even when speakers did not use a microphone. About 65 people took the cemetery tour at 10 a.m., Dana Lippett, curator of the Bangor Museum and History Center, said after the rededication. Lippett, 53, of Bangor dresses in period costumes for the tours that will continue through October.
Between 25 and 30 more people joined them for the nearly two-hour long rededication ceremony that included patriotic music performed by the Bangor Band, which also played at the event in 1864.
Among those in attendance at the rededication was George Maxsimic, 73, of Orrington. He wore a T-shirt with the words “Freedom in Not Free” emblazoned on it.
“It’s nice to come and honor the past,” the Korean War veteran said of the event, “so we don’t forget what occurred then.”
Civil War re-enactors conducted a ceremony similar to the one held 145 years ago. It included a canon shot, which echoed off cemetery’s hills and rolled down the nearby Penobscot River.
Ben Dunkle and his mother, Sandra Dunkle, both of Orrington went on the tour before the ceremonies began.
“I learned a lot of history,” she said. “They call this ‘the city of the dead.’ There are 30,000 people buried here and 32,000 living in Bangor.”
Twenty-first century journalists, hemmed in by standards that require objectivity and brevity, could not describe Saturday’s event in more moving words than the anonymous reporter who covered the original ceremony did.
In the final paragraphs of the story, the reporter observed that the “occasion was a solemn one, and suggested to some, thoughts of friends killed by traitorous hands, or who have died from disease occasioned by the war, and to others fears for friends who are not engaged in one of the holiest works ever participated in by man — the suppression of a Rebellion originated to crush out the principle of freedom throughout the land, and break up the noblest government the sun ever shone upon.”
Palmer said that photos of Saturday’s rededication would be posted on the city’s Web site at www.bangormaine.gov.
Information about cemetery tours is available at www.bangormuseum.org.