Gettysburg

Since I was a little boy growing up in Southern California, Gettysburg has been a point of fascination and awe for me. It was a turning point in the Civil War. That’s where President Lincoln gave one of his most famous speeches. Anybody with an interest in American history wants to visit the site. And now, for the first time in my life, I got to spend a day there. Gettysburg is only 79 miles from home.

The Visitor’s Center houses a Museum, Theater, Cyclorama, Café, and super-important for us . . . the Bookstore.

First on the to-do list was an introductory film, which was brief, but well done.

The museum itself was fascinating. It started with the events leading up to the election of 1860 and the secession of the Confederate States, then transitioned to the battle itself. I must admit that some of the quotations, images, and artifacts were quite disturbing. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why people justified slavery and the horrendous mistreatment of human beings.

Cycloramas used to be a popular way for people to experience art “from the inside.” Originally created by an Irish painter in 1787, they became popular in the 1800’s. The intent is to allow viewers to be surrounded by the images as if they were standing in the middle of the actual location. The Gettysburg Cyclorama accomplishes this so well.

After the museum and the Cyclorama, we got a drink and a snack from the Battlefield Café, and then spent some time exploring the bookstore. We love books and we love learning, so this was special for us. The store also has clothing and souvenirs.

And then on to the battlefield tour itself. We like going at our own pace, which is almost always slower than if we were in a guided tour. The reason we are slower is not because we are slowpokes. Oh no. We can keep up with anybody. The reason we prefer to go at our own pace is because we want to learn more and see more. OK, let’s be totally honest here . . . LINDA is the one who wants to learn more, read more, see more, do more. The woman can’t get enough information, knowledge, and detail.

So, we did the self-guided audio tour, using the Gettysburg National Military Park app on her phone. It’s the exact same information and videos available on the park’s website. The park ranger featured in the videos is Ranger Christopher Gwinn, Chief of Interpretation and Education, and he was fantastic.

The last stop on the driving tour was the Gettysburg National Cemetery, and is definitely worth visiting. This is where President Lincoln gave “a few appropriate remarks.” Interestingly, he wasn’t the main speaker that day. The primary orator was Edward Everett, a nationally known speaker who spoke for over two hours. Later on, he wrote a letter to President Lincoln, saying that he wished he could have accomplished in two hours what Lincoln had done in two minutes.

When the tour was over, we got to choose from among several interesting restaurants. We selected the Dobbin House, and enjoyed a delightful candlelight dinner, the highlight being the Date Nut Bread. Yes, we brought a loaf home.

During our meal, my wife asked her typical question: What was one of the most meaningful experiences of your day? I’ve been on her famous study abroad trips to England, so I know she asks her students that very question at the end of every day. My answer on this particular day in Gettysburg was twofold. First, the absolutely horrible attitude that slaveholders had about their African American “property.” Second, being on the battlefield and seeing the terrain and the distances.

We plan to return to Gettysburg in September to continue to experience and learn a little more. Or maybe a lot more. One day merely whetted the appetite.