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Hailing history and Hollywood star power, tourism officials bank on Spielberg movie attracting visitors for years to come
Petersburg Vice Mayor Horace Webb (left) talks with David Foster, Daniel Day-Lewis' 'Lincoln' stand-in, Thursday at the state Capitol. The film has inspired a tourism trail.
CLINT SCHEMMER/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY CLINT SCHEMMER
RICHMOND--What a difference a century and a half makes.
Abraham Lincoln--or at least his silver-screen spirit--was welcomed to Virginia's capital with open arms Thursday.
On the steps of the Capitol, state, Richmond and Petersburg leaders hailed the 16th U.S. president and the DreamWorks movie about him, announcing a state "movie trail" and website devoted to the Steven Spielberg epic.
They invited film and history buffs to follow the Oscar-winning director and his "Lincoln" stars through the former Confederate capital and Petersburg, where the critically acclaimed film was shot.
"This trail is great because basically you walk in President Lincoln's footsteps, you can walk in Daniel Day-Lewis' footsteps and Steven Spielberg's footsteps," said Jennifer H. Carnam, vice president of the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
At a press conference on the Capitol's South Portico attended by hundreds of people who helped make the movie, Virginia Tourism Corp. CEO Rita McClenny said the commonwealth is "one of the stars of the film."
Tourism officials have already seen a bump in interest from "Lincoln," she said.
That was also apparent from questions visitors and local residents were asking Thursday afternoon at Capitol Square's historic Bell Tower, which welcomes tourists to Richmond.
Thursday's warm reception was a far cry from that of April 4, 1865, when Lincoln visited the still-smoking city the day after Union troops seized it.
The capital's leaders had fled and most of the remaining white citizens viewed Lincoln with suspicion. Only the city's African-Americans greeted him as a hero, thronging around as he and son Tad walked from the James River, where they stepped ashore, and uphill to Confederate President Jefferson Davis' home and the Capitol.
Ten days later, Lincoln was dead, shot by an assassin at Ford's Theatre in Washington. He spent two of the last three weeks of his life on the Civil War's front lines in Virginia, which is partly why Spielberg chose Richmond and Petersburg to film his long-planned biopic.
Earlier in the war, 1862-63, Lincoln spent about as much time in Stafford County as he did in Petersburg.