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“Abe Lincoln” Opens Ocean County Gettysburg Exhibit

After 150 years, welcome back to Ocean County, Mr. President.

"President and Mrs. Lincoln" in Toms River (Townsquare Media
“President and Mrs. Lincoln” in Toms River (Townsquare Media

2013 marks a century and a half since the Battle of Gettysburg, a bloody turning point in the War Between the States and the spot where Abraham Lincoln chose to deliver one of his briefest but most passionate speeches about liberty, sacrifice and human rights.

“Abraham and Mary Lincoln” cut the ribbon Monday for the Ocean County Historical Society’s extensive exhibit of the epic struggle, and of the soldiers from the shore who marched into it.

“Answering President Lincoln’s Call: Civil War Volunteers of Ocean County” remains on display through October, a painstakingly assembled collection of facts, artifacts and sidelights that shed light on the character of a people who bucked the state trend by voting for Lincoln in 1860 and by taking an unwavering stand against slavery.

“I did not want this war. I did everything I could to avoid it,” he explained to a packed assemblage Monday night. “But I also took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. And I will, to the utmost of my ability, carry through on that oath.”

Toms River Township Clerk and Township Historian J. Mark Mutter, a former Dover Township Mayor, devoted his encyclopedic knowledge of the era to the exhibit and offered insight about Ocean County’s role.

“At first, New Jersey was ambivalent towards the Union cause,” he remarked. “Our Governor at the time, Governor [Charles S.] Olden, tried to bring compromise…He favored the idea of slavery being extended to the terrirtories. But, Mr. President, you would have none of that.”

Calista (l) and Samantha (r) of Mill Pond Elementary School (Townsquare Media)

The attack on Fort Sumter mobilized Union supporters at the shore. “Within weeks,” said Mutter, “at the Ocean County Courthouse, local men met to support the effort. The Dover Rifles…met in May…and formed a company. It wa so successful that the Dover Rifles became the Ocean County Rifles.”

Five-hundred people responded to Lincoln’s call, said Mutter, and 59 died for the cause.

Many of the questions that “Mr. Lincoln” fielded concerned his relationship with his wife Mary, and their sons. He acknowledged her politically-influential family for helping his ascendance, giving her credit for inspiring the 1858 debate with Stephen Douglas that thrust him into national prominence, and credited her strong will in informing his decisions.

“Lincoln” then spoke wistfully about his sons and the meaning of family, impressed on a young boy the value of reading, and concluded with a re-enactment of the Gettysburg Address.

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Robert Costello of Parsippany is the man who brought dignity, gravity and a generous dose of humanity to our 16th President. Mutter says he has portrayed Lincoln since 2001. He convincingly weaves his intricate knowledge of the era into dialogue that reaches across time.

The Historical Society is on Hadley Avenue in Toms River, behind the Ocean County Administration Building.

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