Insight Center: News

Lincoln Returns to Philadelphia - President's 1864 Speech to be Recreated at June 16 Ceremony


Historical Marker Notes Importance of U.S. Sanitary Commission ‘Great Central Fair’

PHILADELPHIA – May 11, 2012 – President Abraham Lincoln visited Philadelphia on several occasions, but only appeared officially as President once, when he visited the United States Sanitary Commission Great Central Fair in Logan Square on June 16, 1864.  

That appearance will be recreated at 11 a.m. on June 16, 2012, when Jim Getty, America’s foremost portrayer of Lincoln, will help dedicate a new roadside historical marker about the Great Fair by delivering the remarks the 16th president made in 1864.  The dedication ceremony, which will be held at the marker site on Logan Circle near the Swann Fountain, also will feature period music by the Philadelphia Brigade Band, color guards of the 98th Pennsylvania Volunteers and the 3rd U.S. Colored Infantry, and several living historians portraying prominent military and civilian leaders of the time, including Generals George Thomas, George Meade, John Gibbon, Winfield Scott and their wives; Mr. John Welsh, Director of the Great Fair; Governor Olden of New Jersey; prominent business leader William Elkins; and Mrs. Elizabeth Hutter, a Philadelphia lady and leader of the Great Fair who was the first woman to go to Gettysburg after the great battle, and earned Lincoln’s personal thanks for her care of wounded and suffering troops.

The event also will feature remarks by M. Kelly Tillery, a partner at the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP who spearheaded the development of the marker, James Mundy, Director and Curator of Library and Historical Collections at the Union League, and William V. Lewis, Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The push for the historical marker came from Mr. Tillery’s research while writing an article titled “Lincoln in Philadelphia,” which was published in the Spring 2010 issue of The Philadelphia Lawyer, the magazine of the Philadelphia Bar Association.  In the article, Mr. Tillery recounted all of Lincoln’s appearances in the city, from the 1848 Whig Convention to when Lincoln’s body was returned to Philadelphia to lie in state at Independence Hall following his assassination in 1865.  Mr. Tillery said he was astonished to find that there was no marker noting the Great Fair, and Lincoln’s only official speech as President in Philadelphia.  

“Philadelphia has historical markers for all sorts of people, from W.C. Fields to Wilt Chamberlain,” Mr. Tillery said. “Given the importance of the Great Fair, and the connection Philadelphia has to Lincoln, I decided to make it a mission to have one placed for Lincoln and the Fair as well.”

Mr. Tillery worked closely with city officials and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to gain approvals to place the marker.  In light of city and state budget constraints, the cost of the marker and its installation is being paid by Pepper Hamilton LLP, where Mr. Tillery is a senior partner in the Intellectual Property Department.

The marker reads: “U.S. Sanitary Commission Great Central Fair.  Held at Logan Square from June 7-28, 1864, this event raised more than one million dollars for the Union cause during the Civil War. Formed to coordinate efforts of women volunteering to support the war effort, the Commission gave relief and comfort to soldiers and their families.  In his only official public appearance in Philadelphia, President Abraham Lincoln addressed the crowd on June 16, praising the important work of the organization.”

The Sanitary Commission Great Central Fair was one of the largest fundraisers of its kind held during the war.  As recounted in Philadelphia & the Civil War – Arsenal of the Union by Dr. Anthony Waskie of Temple University, the Fair covered all of what was then Logan Square, including a primary building covering 200,000 square feet, which housed a restaurant, art gallery, historical displays, arms and war trophies, horticultural displays, carriages, and numerous other displays.  Many of the city’s most prominent citizens contributed to the Fair and the Commission – Mrs. Hutter, for example, was credited with raising more than $250,000 for the Commission.  

The U.S. Sanitary Commission was an official, although voluntary, organization formed in 1861 to provide comfort and relief to Union troops.  The Great Central Fair was organized by the Philadelphia branch in conjunction with the New Jersey and Delaware branches, and the Union League.  Through the Great Fair and other efforts, the local branch of the Commission supported hospitals, a pension agency, an employment bureau, and the supply of countless necessities and comforts to sick and wounded soldiers.


Jim Austin
Pepper Hamilton LLP