I read with interest that when Pope Francis appears next month at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall he will be speaking from the lecturn used by Abraham Lincoln when the president gave the Gettysburg Address. The podium, originally part of Wert Collection, is currently on longterm loan to the Union League Club of Philadelphia. I have never visited the Union Club in Philadelphia, but I have been inside the one here in New York. Both institutions date to winter 1863 and have vast collections of Civil War and Gilded Age memorabilia.
I was a little surprised to read that the podium had ever even belonged to the Wert Collection. I have been in many of the shops along Steinwehr Avenue and have seen many Gettysburg relics for sale. Locals such as John Rosensteel and J. Howard Wert began collecting the battle’s detritus within hours of the fighting’s end. (I have been to Belgium and north France, where I have seen the same phenomenon relating to Ypres, the Battle of the Marne, and elsewhere.) The Rosensteel Collection today forms the base of the Park Service’s vast holdings. If Wert is to believed, some of the bullets and shrapnel pieces were still hot when he gathered them in the days immediately after the battle.
What surprised me was that Wert had even acquired the lecturn to begin with. He apparently obtained it right there and then just after Lincoln’s speech on November 19, 1863, adding it to his already extensive collection of Gettysburg relics.