“I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it.” Garrison Keillor…
Tickets for all February broadcasts of Prairie Home Companion at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul, Minn., are sold out.
It is a testament to Keillor’s charm, storytelling expertise and a sense of humor that transcends the American heartland. Everywhere he goes he is met by a full house. Keillor’s reception at Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pa., is a prime example of his enduring love affair with American audiences.
While in Gettysburg, Keillor was the keynote speaker at an event commemorating Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. As the national debate about controversial immigration reform bills continue to divide the nation, 16 new citizens took the Oath of Allegiance at Dedication Day services commemorating the 152nd anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.
The swearing in ceremony has become a part of the tradition of the annual program, normally held in the Soldiers National Cemetery, near the spot where Abraham Lincoln delivered his address on Nov. 19, 1863. Due to heavy rain, the program was moved indoors to the Gettysburg College Student Union Ballroom.
Following the program, Raghda Ahmed Mohammed, a Mechanicsburg resident who fled the violence and conflict of her native country, Sudan, in 2009, said of the ceremony, “I think it was wonderful, amazing.”
Wearing a hijab, Mohammed, a Muslim, said she emigrated to the United States with her family. In unaccented English, the soft-spoken woman, who held a small American flag in one hand, given to her as part of the Oath of Allegiance ceremony, said she “definitely would never forget” Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, as she joined the ranks of millions of immigrants who came to this country to escape war, poverty, religious prosecution to start a better life in America, a country of immigrants.
In all, the 16 new citizens had emigrated from 12 countries: Bosnia and Herzegovnia, Brazil, Ghana, Mexico, People’s Republic of China, Philippines, Sudan, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. Michael Borgen, the district director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS), Philadelphia, presented the citizen candidates to Lori Pietropaoli, the northeast regional director of USCIS, to be administered the Oath of Allegiance.
More than 900 people filled the ballroom to hear the keynote speaker, Garrison Keillor, author, creator and host of the PBS weekly radio program, A Prairie Home Companion; and the host of The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, a daily radio program distributed by American Public Media.
Keillor, who has visited Gettysburg on many occasions—as commencement speaker at Gettysburg College, in May of 1987 and at other times, read excepts from a collection of letters sent home by 12 Union and Confederate troops as they marched toward Gettysburg where they fought for three days, July 1-3, 1863. All of the letter writers were killed in action.
As they marched toward Gettysburg, to what they knew would be a violent, bloody battle, they focused on “the ordinary things in life became so precious to them, so dear to them,” Keillor said. More than 51,000 soldiers from the North and South were killed, wounded, captured or were listed as missing in action.
While a youth, Keillor, a native of Minnesota, had the opportunity to see Albert Henry Woolson, the last living Civil War Union Army veteran, who died in 1956 at age 109. Woolson’s father, Willard, had joined the Union Army, and was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh. From the battlefield, he was transported to a Union Army hospital in Windom, Minnesota, where he died; but not before his wife, Caroline, and her son, Albert, moved from their New York home to Minnesota to be with him at the hospital. Albert Woolson joined the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery on Oct. 10, 1864, as a company drummer boy.
Keillor said he saw Woolson during a Memorial Day parade in Minneapolis, “when I was 12-years-old. There is a monument to him, up here at the park (Gettysburg Battlefield), some where. I’m fast on my way to being the last person to see Albert Woolson,” Keillor said eliciting laughter from the audience.
“We are awestruck every time we come to Gettysburg,” Keillor said. “We are awestruck by the memory of what happened here.”
Following the program, Keillor talked with a small group of reporters. Keillor’s distinctive voice and measured enunciation of words, serves him well, as a consummate storyteller. Keillor was asked by the Dillsburg Banner what the people of Lake Woebegone, the mythical Minnesota town he created, would say about the current presidential candidates race.
“They’re not really paying much attention to it,” Keillor, who has announced his pending retirement from A Prairie Home Companion, said. “They don’t take such a strong intramural interest in politics, as some of us do. Some of us are obsessed by it and go online every day and read Politico and other websites.”
For residents of small towns, Keillor explained, “this is a volatile subject. You have to live with these other people. People in the larger world, I and perhaps you, mainly consort with people who agree with us. This is not possible in a small town.”
To view Keillor’s speech, visit the Lincoln Leadership Institute at www.facebook.com/GettysburgLeadership/.