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Feeding interest in that other war

Philadelphia has a treasure trove of Civil War assets just awaiting visitors.

Philadelphia is sitting on a gold mine of history, and it's not just the Revolutionary kind. Our region's Civil War assets are so rich that they present a major opportunity for the city's tourism coffers.

A 2006 report funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts revealed more than 600 Civil War-related locations here. Together, they tell the story of our city as the industrial, medical, military, educational, and charitable engine that drove the Union victory at Gettysburg and nationally.

There is a significant appetite for that story. Sixty-six percent of history travelers want to learn about Civil War Philadelphia, especially in the context of a more complete story about Gettysburg, another Pew-sponsored study found.

Most of the 29 million business and leisure visitors who spend $9 billion a year here have an interest in the 18th-century founding story - the chapter of our history solidly "branded" as Philadelphia's. But with the right 19th-century offerings, those same visitors may return and spend billions more.

There's no better time to begin telling that story than this year, the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. Lincoln 200: The Bicentennial Birthday Festival, scheduled for July 2-5, is the city's official celebration of the 16th president's birthday. It will bring Lincoln's legacy to life on Independence Mall, where, during his inaugural trip in 1861, Lincoln honored George Washington's birthday and raised a new American flag with an added star for Kansas.

Lincoln 200 will showcase the president's strong Philadelphia connection, giving visitors and residents a new appreciation for a period of our history that has been overlooked for too long.

Lincoln visited Philadelphia more than any other city during his presidency. His path to the presidency may have begun right here, when he attend the 1848 Whig convention. He visited the Great Central Fair here in 1864. And after his assassination, he lay in state at Independence Hall as 300,000 mourners paid their respects.

Our historical and cultural institutions hold a rich trove of artifacts that will take center stage during Lincoln 200, including a fragment of the flag Lincoln raised at Independence Hall in 1861, a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation he signed, a locket containing his hair, and a cast of his face and hands.

We believe history is told best through meaningful experiences. So Lincoln 200 will include living-history interpreters, a Civil War encampment and medical demonstrations, and the most arresting natural-history discovery of its time, a full-scale dinosaur. There will be children's activities, too.

Lincoln 200 will whet the appetites of the million or more expected to visit Independence Mall over the July 4 weekend. It will also set the stage for the region's long-planned commemoration of the Civil War's 150th Anniversary, to begin in 2011.

By 2015, we look forward to the road between Philadelphia and Gettysburg being worn bare by busloads of tourists eager to experience the state's rich Civil War history.