Gettysburg’s 150th Celebration: How to Survive and Maybe Learn a Lesson in Civility Along the Way

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Gettysburg re-enactment 2012

Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary celebration kicks off June 27 and lasts through July 7th. For all the official information concerning reenactments, concerts and other events go to: http://www.nps.gov/gett/planyourvisit/150th-anniversay-faq.htm  Or  http://www.bluegraygettysburg.com/ Or http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/.  For everything unofficial, stay here.

I am a self proclaimed history buff, paranormal enthusiast with extensive history studying trauma. What would be more natural then for me to gravitate to Gettysburg, especially on such an epic occasion?   These days, I am in Gettysburg at least once a month. Usually, you will find me wandering around areas of the battlefield with a camera. I try to capture in photos the moods of July 1863 and now for me as I walk across the once blood soaked fields.

These fields speak; the trees wail with woe, the buildings are still scarred from cannon fire.  The battlefield is so vividly re-conditioned to its original state that I can literally walk where great and courageous men made split second decisions that saved many, killed thousands and helped bring a turning point to the Civil War.  The history of the town, the people and the soldiers have been so painstakingly researched, preserved and presented for the next generation to remember.

Why do we still harbor strong feelings toward a war that ended over a hundred years ago? Because it is the one time where our own people turned and divided. Brothers fault and killed brothers. Neighbors killed neighbors. I come from Maryland, a state divided in the war. We were neither Yankee nor Confederate and yet we were both.  So, there are many stories of families being ripped apart over the issues and ultimately burying their dead.

I used to find it hard to believe that people could turn on each other the way they did before and during the war. That is until recently when I started to hear rhetoric about taking up arms, parts of states wanting to succeed from the country over this issue or that. At times the vocal violence was so lethal, I found it frightening.

I don’t think most people have it within themselves to kill a family member or neighbor over politic differences of opinion. I’d like to think not. I know for sure, most people have never taken another person’s life and have no clue not only if they could, but what that would be like.

I’ve worked with enough veterans and police officers who do know. It’s not pretty. It’s easy to spout at the mouth about wanting internal war. I don’t think people realize if there was an internal war, we, all of us, would be the ones fighting. Not just enlisted people or trained militants. It would be our children, elderly and disabled injured and potentially slaughtered. Our food not able to be harvested from destroyed fields. Food that is harvested, not able to reach its destinations. It is our socio-economic system completely collapsing. There would be no, forgetting we are at war because it does not affect me unless I catch a glimpse on what we currently call the news.

We all need a dose of calming down and a reality check. Gettysburg, while now a thriving tourist destination, being home to one of the most explored, if not the most explored battlefield in the world, is one powerful reality check.  For 150 years she’s been screaming at us. Don’t forget!

So, if you come to Gettysburg this year, especially during this celebration of remembrance, don’t’ forget. But at the same time, don’t’ let it swallow you whole. Depending on your own experiences and empathetic abilities, it can do that. Have some fun. There is a lot to take in.

I’ve decided to give you the, if I was a Gettysburg tour guide this is where I would take you, agenda. If your favorite haunt is not listed, well I couldn’t list them all. This is just my list compiled over forty years of visits to town.

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Walking Along Cemetery Ridge

Must Haves When Coming to Gettysburg:

  1. Patience! Crowds will be intense this summer and especially during the 150th anniversary. Remember, this is a walking town; pedestrians have the right-a-way. In the traffic circle, the cars inside the circle have the right-a-way. You can only go in one direction. When you get to your street, veer off to the right. Watching for traffic around you.
  2. Sunscreen, lots of sunscreen, hats and or parasols. If you are going to the re-enactments, there are few to no trees. The sun gets intense. Remember to shield the kids!
  3. Water! Bright sun and intense July heat equals dehydration. There are venders selling drinks all over town and at the reenactments. Lines can be long and many venders do not sell water. You can’t drink enough water.
  4. Bring cash. Most places accept credit cards, but some venders, again, especially if you are going to a reenactment, may only accept cash.
  5. Time. Give yourself plenty of time to get from point A to point B. Traffic will be difficult. The main historic district of town is located on two cross streets meeting at the traffic circle. Parking is limited.
  6. A map of town and the battlefield. The re-enactments are not on the battlefield. The battlefield is not one large land mass. It surrounds the town and if you are looking for a particular battle location or monument, a map and or GPS is a must.
  7. Sense of humor. Everyone is in town to have a good time, learn new things and experience a piece of history. There will be short tempers, babies crying, people walking into traffic, lines for restaurants and port-a-potties. Accept it and go with the flow. The park service is expecting over 20,000 re-enactors and half a million visitors this summer. Smile!
  8. A place to stay! Don’t come to town expecting to find a place, even if it’s camping. Be smart; get your lodging ahead of time. I’ve heard people are staying in York, Hanover, Chambersburg and Harrisburg for the re-enactment weekends.
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Pennsylvania Infantry Memorial

Must Dos (According to me):

  1. Get in town early and have breakfast at one of the many restaurants. I’ve eaten several times at The Avenue Restaurant on Steinwehr Ave. across from O’Rorke’s Irish Eatery and Spirits.  The cost is family friendly, food good and lines not too bad.  OR
  2. Go to the National Park Service Visitor’s Center and Museum. They have a 19th century eating establishment on site. See the film, cyclorama and the museum. The museum displays give a wonderful, easy to understand presentation of pre, during and post Civil War information and life.  Visually stimulating, occasionally interactive displays allow for even the most museum skittish to benefit.
  3. Buy the two hour Battlefield Auto Tour CD from the National Park Service bookstore before touring the battlefield. Stops on the CD correspond to the tour signs on the battlefield. The CD not only gives logistics about sections of the battle but re-enacts stories from the perspective of soldiers, town’s people and generals.
  4. When on the battlefield tour, get out of your car and walk around! Check out the vantage points, variety of monuments and the stories they convey. There is a book you can purchase at the National Park bookstore called, So You Think You Know Gettysburg, by James and Suzanne Gindlesperger. It is an easy to use book giving GPS locations and stories behind some of the parks most memorable statues and monuments.
  5. Rent a horse, Segway or book a bus to tour the battlefield. There are over 6,000 acres of battlefield with out-of-the-way roads and trails.
  6. Have lunch.
  7. Take a walk down Steinwehr Ave. Watch fudge being made in the Chocolate, Fudge and Ice Cream shop on Steinwehr Ave. Dress up in Victorian clothing and have your picture taken. Have a home-made ice cream cone, take in multiple gift shops, art galleries, book shops and souvenir venders.
  8. Veer to the right at the corner of Baltimore Street and Steinwehr Ave. There are several bed and breakfasts, private historic collections and museums with minimal admission fees, candy shops, period clothing shops, restaurants and ghost tours.
  9. Have dinner at either the Farnsworth House or Dobbins House Tavern. There are many great places to eat in town but for me, these historic locations with their ambience, period menus and service can’t be beat. Farnsworth House is located on Baltimore Street. Dobbins Inn is located on Steinwehr Ave.
  10. Take in a ghost tour. Warning, there are several to choose from and one is not the same as another. Some take you directly in front of the building or location where the story takes place. Others only walk you around a circle, stopping here and there to tell a story.  Some claim to promise seeing a ghost via orbs on your photos (orbs most likely to be dust, bugs, dew or other weather related element). Some tell stories with minimal to no factual back story. While others give factual, historical information behind the stories and town’s people’s antidotes of unexplained events. You can have a great tour but a minimally effective tour guide and visa-versa.  Guides expect a tip after the tour.

My favorite ghost tour is Ghosts of Gettysburg on Baltimore Street. The author, Nesbit wrote the series Ghosts of Gettysburg and runs this operation. Reservations are recommended. I prefer the longer tour as they take you down to the train station and college as well as around town.

  1. End the night head down to the Lincoln Diner at 32 Carlisle Street for a great piece of pie. Located across from the Railroad Station, this college diner is known for its large, scrumptious deserts.
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Sach’s Bridge

If you have a second day in town, check out the Jenny Wade house on Baltimore Street. Take a carriage ride. Check out the Lincoln Train Museum on Steinwehr Ave., Soldier’s National Museum on Baltimore Street, and Hall of Presidents also on Baltimore Street.  Talk to some re-enactors stationed in encampments about life as a soldier. Pay your respects at the National Cemetery and location of President Lincoln’s famous address.

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Little Round looking down on Devil’s Den

At the end of the day, find a large rock on the battlefield at Little Round Top and watch the sunset over Devil’s Den. This location, where thousands lost their lives in the Valley of Death is oddly serene and quiet in the rays of the setting sun.  While you are there, don’t’ forget the message these hollowed fields deliver. Find peaceful resolutions. War is not the answer and it’s never what we expect. Once started, it’s hard to turn back.

Enjoy your time in Gettysburg!

About Debbie Hill, deborahhillcounselor.com

Wellness Counselor, Author, Photographer, Interested in living a balanced, compassion centered life, travel, spiritual/supernatural issues, history, all things Disney. If that's not eclectic, I don't know what is.

Posted on June 19, 2013, in Are We There Yet? Travel Meanderings, Insights, the Greatest Gifts, Misc. and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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