Virginia tourism pitch seeks to capture Lincoln fans

RICHMOND, Va. — State tourism officials are inviting fans of film and history to walk in the footsteps of Steven Spielberg and his Lincoln stars at the Virginia Capitol, the Confederate White House and the Dixie Restaurant in Petersburg, where the menu includes the “Spielburger.”

“The Lincoln Movie Trail” made its debut Thursday as the state tourism office launched a website and self-guided tour of the locations used by Spielberg and his all-star cast in his epic on the nation’s 16th president, which is released nationally on Friday. The movie, the third he’s made in Virginia, was filmed entirely in the state and primarily in Richmond and Petersburg.

The trail got a Hollywood-style launch on the South Portico of the Capitol, which was transformed for the film into the White House and U.S. Capitol, with Lincoln look-alikes on Segways, large posters with Lincoln’s hirsute likeness, the message “Lincoln was here” and a spitting image of the great man: David Foster was Daniel Day-Lewis’ stand-in during the film.

“I’ve been doing this for 23 years,” said Foster, who spent 47 of 53 days on the Lincoln set in the shadow of Day-Lewis. “It’s been a hobby.”

The tourism promotion is intended to tap into a growing revenue stream for Virginia: filmmaking. The industry’s total economic impact was up 14.5 percent to more than $394 million in 2011. It also contributed nearly $60 million in state and local tax revenue.

Mindful of history and star power, tourism officials are banking on the movie attracting visitors for years to come.

“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 of the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. City hotels are offering Lincoln packages, she said.

The tour offers a blend of Hollywood and history, with Richmond standing in for Washington, D.C., and historic Petersburg portraying itself. Lincoln spent a good deal of the final days of the Civil War in both cities. As emancipated people cheered, he famously walked the streets of the smoldering former capital of the Confederacy in April 1865 as it fell to Union forces. Lincoln also spent about two weeks in Petersburg, home to the longest military siege on American soil.

Much of the filming in Petersburg was held within a couple blocks of Charlie Rawlings’ Dixie Restaurant. He concocted the Spielburger at the behest of one of the filmmaker’s aides. It’s a variation on the restaurant’s signature chili dogs.

“He said he really enjoyed it,” said Rawlings, who got the burger’s review from Spielberg’s aide. The director took the burger on the set.

“I never saw the actors,” Rawlings said. “Never saw Daniel Day-Lewis. Didn’t see any of them.”

The crew, however, crowded into the Dixie regularly, often for breakfast and lunch such as chicken and dumplings and smothered pork chops, Rawlings said.

In Richmond, sightings were common of Day-Lewis, Sally Fields, who portrays Mary Todd Lincoln, and other actors such as David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader, who was regularly seen shopping along Cary Street, a trendy stretch of shops and restaurants.

The movie trail includes restaurants where the stars were seen eating in Petersburg and Richmond, as well as attractions such as Maymont in Richmond. The 100-acre Victorian estate overlooking the James River was transformed into Appomattox for Lincoln.

In Petersburg, the locations include a barbecue restaurant, an antique store and historic buildings. The city is complementing the trail with its own walks re-tracing Lincoln’s steps. The trail will include posters with Lincoln’s likeness and the words “Lincoln was here.” Rita McClenny, president and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corp., said the state is “one of the stars of the film” and her office is already seen an uptick in interest from Lincoln. Spielberg filmed the War of the Worlds remake and Minority Report in Virginia and he told McClenny Lincoln was not his last film trip to Virginia.

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