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‘Lincoln’ movie segues into tourism trail

The Virginia State Capitol doubles as the U.S. Capitol–and the White House–in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln.’ (DREAMWORKS)


Hailing history and Hollywood star power, Virginia tourism officials bank on Spielberg film attracting visitors for years to come



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.

Christopher Brady, as Abraham Lincoln, arrives on a Segway at the launch of Virginia’s Lincoln Movie Trail at the State Capitol in Richmond on Thursday. (BOB BROWN/RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH)

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.

Based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” the film focuses on the final months of the president’s life as he struggles to win approval for the U.S. Constitution’s 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

That Lincoln was celebrated Thursday in the former seat of the Confederate government, on a plaza adorned with the state seal and   motto “Sic semper tyrannis” (Thus Always to Tyrants) made the moment full of historical irony. Lincoln was derided as a dictator by some during his presidency.

That didn’t matter to the celebrants, who applauded the film’s début and laughed as Lincoln look-alikes rolled up on Segways—one option for Richmond tourists—to add spice to the occasion.

Officials unveiled posters bearing Lincoln’s bearded visage and the message “Lincoln was here,” the logo that will alert visitors that they’re seeing one of  the locations where the movie’s cast and crew visited, dined and stayed during filming in Richmond and Petersburg.

Officials hope to augment a growing revenue stream for Virginia—filmmaking.

Last year, the film industry’s total economic impact in the state rose 14.5 percent to more than $394 million, contributing nearly $60 million in state and local tax revenue.

An interactive map of “Lincoln” filming sites and a trip planner went online Thursday to help people build their own “Lincoln” tours of the two cities.

Petersburg Vice Mayor Horace Webb (left) talks with David Foster, actor Daniel Day–Lewis’ ‘Lincoln’ stand-in, Thursday in Capitol Square overlooking downtown Richmond. The Steven Spielberg movie has inspired a tourism trail in Richmond and Petersburg, where it was filmed. (CLINT SCHEMMER/THE FREE LANCE–STAR)

The Lincoln Movie Trail blends Hollywood and history, with Richmond standing in for Washington.

The State Capitol was transformed into the White House and U.S. Capitol in the film. Virginia’s House of Delegates chambers filled in for the U.S. House of Representatives. Visitors can step inside the room where Tommy Lee Jones stole   scenes as abolitionist  Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, R–Pa.

The Virginia Executive Mansion’s exterior represented the home of politician Preston Blair, played by Hal Holbrook.

Richmond’s Maymont Park, a Gilded Age estate, provided the carriage paths on which Lincoln  rides with Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field).

Petersburg portrays itself, with its South Side Depot (recently purchased by the Civil War Trust) figuring as a Union hospital where Lincoln visits the wounded and its octagonal Farmer’s Market serving as a telegraph office used by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and military aide Robert Lincoln, the president’s eldest son.

At Petersburg’s Dixie Restaurant, the menu includes the “Spielburger,” created for the film crew.

As members of the news media wait, Christopher Brady rolls up to the South Portico of the Virginia State Capitol on Thursday for the Lincoln Movie Trail’s debut. (BOB BROWN/RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH)

Hotels are already offering “Lincoln” packages. Some attractions are giving discounts to visitors who provide a movie ticket stub.

Spielberg, who also shot “War of the Worlds” and “Minority Report” in Virginia, told state leaders that “Lincoln” won’t be his last trip to Virginia.

“He likes us,” the Tourism Corp.’s McClenny said. “I think it’s the whole experience. And he said when he left, ‘I’ll be back.’”

The movie buzz continued later in the day. President Barack Obama hosted a screening of “Lincoln” at the White House with director Steven Spielberg and some of the film’s cast present, according to The Hollywood Reporter.


Lincoln Movie Trail:

Associated Press Writer Steve Szkotak contributed to this report.

Clint Schemmer:   540/368-5029