‘It Shall Long Endure’: Preserving Cornell’s Gettysburg Address (part 2)

The author of this post, Michele Hamill, is a conservation expert for Cornell University Library. She and her department have helped preserve our copy of the Gettysburg Address, and she will be writing a series of posts for this blog, providing an insider’s view of the history and challenges related to this task.

Read Part 1 of her series.

If Cornell has the original Gettysburg Address, why do we occasionally display a facsimile?  The facsimile, it turns out, plays a critical role in the preservation of the original document.

Lance Heidig, curator for the Remembering Lincoln at Gettysburg exhibit, looks on as Phil Koons, facilities manager, prepares to install the facsimile of the Gettysburg Address into the new double-sided exhibit stand.

Seeing and reading Cornell’s original Gettysburg Address — held by President Lincoln, with the words carefully penned by his own hand — is a profound and moving experience for many visitors. The Library will celebrate this national treasure by making the original document widely available during the exhibition, Remembering Lincoln at Gettysburg, to encourage visitors to experience the real thing.

The original manuscript will be on display:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 12 through Friday, Nov. 15, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • Saturday, Nov. 16, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • Monday, Nov. 18 through Friday, Nov. 22, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
  • Saturday, Nov. 23, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The “Remembering Lincoln at Gettysburg” exhibition is currently up, and it will run through Dec. 20.

During its time on display, we will protect the original Address by using low light levels in the gallery and further reducing light with UV-absorbing Plexiglas on both sides of the document.

The UV-absorbing Plexiglas can be seen here on the facsimile as Phil Koons lowers it into the frame.

Protecting valuable documents from light has been long understood — even in 1950, the expert bindery R.R. Donnelley used a plastic that “filters out most of the injurious light rays” when creating mounts for all 5 copies of the Gettysburg Address for the Chicago Historical Society exhibit. But any light exposure can be an aggressive form of energy, fueling damaging chemical reactions to the paper and ink of the document and causing permanent changes to the appearance and stability of the original. 

This print shows the damaging effects of heavy light exposure. The borders of the print were protected from light exposure by a window mat while the interior of the print, now significantly darkened, was exposed and damaged.

All light exposure accumulates and stays in the document and cannot be reversed. Once damaging chemical reactions get enough fuel to start, they can continue even when the document is returned to dark storage. 

Light can damage both paper and ink. The deterioration of the Address’s iron gall ink and fading of the blue ink of its ruling lines on the paper can be accelerated by light exposure.

Because our Library is charged with the long-term preservation of the Gettysburg Address, it takes important steps to limit light exposure — and that’s where the facsimile comes in.

The facsimile was created by Rhea Garen, the lead photographer for the Digital Consulting and Production Services of Cornell’s Library, who used state-of-the-art technology to digitally capture the original document and produce a highly faithful and realistic copy. In fact, the facsimile is so good, it can be difficult to distinguish it from the original! But the intent of the facsimile is not to deceive; exhibit labels identifying facsimiles are always prominently displayed. Rather, the intent of using the facsimile is to complete the experience of the entire exhibit for the viewer, while safeguarding the original document.

The facsimile captures the paper and ink of the original so well that unique features, such as the darkening of the first page (the right side of the document) from the damaging cellophane, are apparent.

This exhibit will be the first time at Cornell that the original Gettysburg Address will be displayed with both sides showing at the same time.  The new exhibit stand was expertly designed by Phil Koons, facilities manager at Cornell University Library. He coordinated the fabrication of the stand and wood frame with the Cornell Facilities Management Shops.  The new exhibit stand is supportive, secure, and attractive — the warmth of the wood frame is a perfect complement to the brown iron gall ink of the document.

To give visitors as complete an experience as possible, the facsimile was matted and framed in the same manner as the original.  Installing the facsimile in the exhibit stand was a good test-run for installing the original.  Now we are certain the original will be well supported and protected while on exhibit in its new mount.

We hope many of you will come to the Library’s exhibition. If you come on a day the facsimile is on display, enjoy it along with the many other fascinating documents, books, and photographs that are part of this exhibition — and also viewable online — and remember the important role the facsimile plays in ensuring that Cornell’s Gettysburg Address shall long endure.

Many unique and rare documents, books and photographs have been gathered to tell the powerful story of President Lincoln at Gettysburg.

In part 3 of this series on the preservation of the Gettysburg Address, we will see how President Lincoln‘s choice of paper and ink have helped our document survive these past 150 years.


  1. Debbie Collier says:

    Thank you for sharing and preserving this treasure of American history! I look forward to seeing it soon!


  1. […] Unit directed the rehousing and display of both the facsimile and the original. Read her excellent blog posts describing the journey and installation of “our” Gettysburg. Listen to her interview with […]

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