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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

History is Alive!

~Thursday, October 28, 2021~

Day 501

Woke up early to formally “check-in” at our campground. The manager was very nice as she gave me all sorts of information about the various Gettysburg tours and the ones she thought were principal features. She also proceeded to tell me about the hauntings of several landmarks in the area, one of which was the Jennie Wade House and the other, at our 300-site campground of Granite Hill, specifically the old brick farmhouse. I hesitate to say Jeff and I don’t believe in the paranormal world for fear it will come back to bite me, but let’s just say I found the topic “interesting”. She also mentioned they were expecting 150 arrivals (families) today. Yeh….nice to know we’ll be having neighbors. It did feel a little strange being out here all by our lonesome. After my little office visit and morning ghost story, I drove to downtown Gettysburg to pick up a few necessities….milk, eggs, things of that nature, to make a hearty breakfast for our Gettysburg experience.

As we approached the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, we were awestruck that we were already on the battlefield; the bloodiest battle ever to take place on American soil. We got a glimpse of the many cannons, monuments and cemetery from Baldwin Street, which are in close proximity to the visitor center. As much as we wanted to tour the battlefield today, to take advantage of the sunny day, we felt we needed to get oriented first about the battle. We knew that Gettysburg was a Civil War battle between the North and the South, and the significance of the outcome, but forgot much of the details since it had been a long time since those history classes. An introduction and overview were necessary to get our minds in perspective, so we’d understand more of what we’d be looking at. We will be doing this tour on Saturday.

The docents recommend seeing the fully restored Cyclorama first, followed by the film “A New Birth of Freedom '' before heading into the museum. We took their suggestions. We’ve now seen 2 Cycloramas on our travels, both impressive. One was at the Amish/Mennonite Heritage Center in Ohio, and now the second at Gettysburg. Seeing this amazing masterpiece today, moved me so much that it brought me to tears.

The music always gets me! In the late 1800’s, cycloramas were a very popular form of entertainment displayed in large installations throughout America and Europe. To give them a more 3-dimensional feel, it was common to add landscape features, i.e. life-size animals, trees, grasses, etc. The Cyclorama at Gettysburg is by French painter/artist Paul Philippoteaux. Philippoteaux’s oil on canvas depiction of the third and final battle day at Gettysburg was triumphant, making you feel like you were part of the scene. Between the beautiful music, the heightened sounds of the battle in surround sound, and the explosive visuals behind the canvas, you couldn’t help but be moved. Over time, many cycloramas from the past have either been lost or destroyed. But Gettysburg’s cyclorama is one of the few to survive.

Though Philippoteaux was not in Gettysburg during battle time, he arrived 19 years later with a sketchbook and guide book in hand to help him locate the site of the climactic charge. He spent several weeks on the battlefield, observing details of the terrain and even hired a photographer to produce panoramic photographs to help in recollection of the details. He also interviewed many veterans from the battle to aid him in depicting a more accurate picture of what took place. The work took over 19 months to complete and premiered in Chicago in 1883 where it was on site for over 20 years. The painting had been purchased several times before, but it wasn’t until the 1940’s that the National Park Service made the final purchase in the 1940’s. Several restoration projects took place with the latest being in 2003, at a cost of $13 million.

After the cyclorama tour we were then led to view the 20-minute film, “A New Birth of Freedom”, narrated by one of our favorite actors, Morgan Freeman. It was the perfect way to orient us to the battle and Gettysburg’s place in the American Civil War.

Next was the museum inside the visitor center. Completed in 2008, this was the perfect way to set the framework for our visit and prepared us well for the battlefield portion. The museum gradually takes you through a day by day depiction of the series of events that unfolded, featuring items

from one of the largest collections of Civil War relics in the world. We should have researched just how large the museum was before arriving. If you’re a history buff, you’d need all day easily to just tour the museum, with a few

breaks between. My brother-in-law would easily be done in an hour. 😉 We did all 22,000 square feet in 5 hours. I think it took us 3 hours just to get through Day 1 of the battle. There are a multitude of interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations that cover the conflict, as well as the aftermath.

As we exited the building, we read about the Eisenhower National Historic Site (General/President Eisenhower’s summer home and farm) just a few miles from the museum. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to tour this worthwhile place on this visit, and many other exhibits for that matter, but will return to Gettysburg one day to do some unfinished sightseeing.

After a long day of taking in all this history, we thought a cold brew would be a good way to top off the day, so we stopped at Battlefield Brewery on the outskirts of town. A really cool funky place, but nothing worth writing home about when it came to the beer/beverage selection.

Quite the opposite energy when we arrived back at our campsite. Many people arrived today for the weekend’s Halloween festivities. Some were setting up for the decorating contest, so we just had to have a look around. As we did, we couldn’t believe just how big the campground was. It just goes on and on and on….And you can tell this is a place, at least for Halloween, where people have been coming here for years, upholding tradition. Many of the license plates read Maryland and Pennsylvania, so I think it’s safe to say Jeff and I were the only ones representing California.

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