Took Amtrak to/from Harrisburg and met up with the g/f to do a couple days of touristing in Gettysburg. Rode down Thursday, back Sunday. Overall good, but I am glad to be in my own bed again. If I'd had more knowledge I would have planned better, but given the knowledge I had at the start I think we planned very well.
Friday we took two pre-planned tours. A "History Nerds" tour that was mostly riding around in an air conditioned bus (quite useful when the temp AND humidity topped 85) and looking at sites with a guy who could firehose details about pretty much everything. We got a fairly complete set of visits and lots of facts. I would have liked it if the bus stopped more often, but it did provide info we used later.
That evening (once it had cooled off from "utterly beastly" to "merely summer sticky") we had a walking tour of the city itself with a hobbyist guide. That was interesting because most of the National Park-level focus is on the battlefield and kind of glosses over the fact that the battle swept through the town multiple times. Our guide had lots of interesting stories and trivia to help contextualize the facts and sites and since it was just the two of us on this walk we got extra time and it was much more conversational.
It was interesting to be reminded throughout just how much of a cultural bubble I live in; for example, the evening guide was explaining how the local Lutheran congregation continues to struggle with whether to do services in (traditional) German or (modern) English, how they vary some week-by-week and how they print variations on the prayer book in one or the other or both languages. I commented, "Yeah, sounds like every synagogue I've ever been to" and the guide admitted she had no idea Jews did that. I get the sense that she likely doesn't know any actual Jewish people.
Saturday we decided to revisit the battlefield in the morning, predicted to be the coolest and least humid hours of the day. Despite some navigation snafus we made it to several of the sites we'd wanted more time at and spent a lot of time wandering around getting a sense for things that's hard to achieve while in a bus.
After a few hours of that we declared a break for lunch at a period recreation inn in town that was OK and fortuitously was across the street from the local cidery that I'd been wanting to try. Between heat, exercise, post-food coma, and a flight of very tasty ciders we decided to ditch the previous plan of going back to the battlefield in favor of nappage. By the time we got up from that it was late and GF wanted to visit the official Gettysburg visitor center and cyclorama.
The visitor center was OK - we saw a short film narrated by Morgan Freeman that talked about some of the impact of the Civil War on slavery and economics. The Gettysburg Cyclorama
is one of the last few surviving cycloramas anywhere. This version was originally displayed in the Boston Cyclorama building (who knew?) and moved to the park's visitor center in 2008 after restoration work. It's quite impressive; unfortunately we were the last group of the day and the museum needed to close promptly because there was a wedding using the site right after closing. I would have liked more time to soak it in but such is the nature of things.
After dinner and ice cream we detoured into what is locally marked as the "Soldier's National Cemetery" but Wikipedia calls Gettysburg National Cemetery
. The place is a little eerie, particularly the rows of "unknown" markers for soldiers interred there who could not be identified. There's a commemorative marker for Abraham Lincoln as well, which people have placed numerous Lincoln pennies onto. Being my own contrarian self I found a pebble.
It was interesting to me to have a memorial marker there since it's not where he's buried (that's his hometown of Springfield at the Oak Ridge cemetery) nor is it where he gave(*) the Gettysburg Address - that spot is marked by a separate memorial stone. Humans are weird, what can I say.
We skipped doing one of the many "ghost" tours that take place in the evenings and I felt good about that in retrospect. They all seem to be popular but kind of commercial and largely beside the point. My interest is in authentic history, at least to the degree we can understand and experience it. I would have liked another half day on the battlefield - we got to see almost all of Cemetery Ridge (the Union side) and about 3/4 of Seminary Ridge (the Confederate side) but not really view Little Round Top or see the cemetery in detail.
(*) Actually there's some debate about where Lincoln actually stood. He was not the featured speaker of the day - that was the popular orator Edward Everett of MA - and in fact had not been expected to attend. His remarks were so brief that the photographers didn't even have time to set up properly; there is only one popular photo of the address and Lincoln isn't even easy to distinguish in the shot. The location is in dispute as contemporaneous accounts differ and really nobody paid much attention to his speech at the time. The New York Times
printed Everertt's address in full but declined to reproduce Lincoln's remarks.
To make matters more confusing, at least five different versions of the Address were printed in other newspapers of the time and all differ in some details from written versions that have been authenticated as being in Lincoln's handwriting. Post-hoc analysis of Lincoln's condition ("ghastly color" and "haggard" were reported) indicate that he was likely feverish at the time of the speech and so may have said things different from what he had written.