On To Gettysburg! July 30, 2006
Gettysburg is just under an hour from Hershey, a very pleasant drive after a hot day in the park. Our destination
was a charming little place called Cricket House, located just across from one of the entrances to the Battlefield. We had
been given directions, of course, but somehow our itinerary had been left on the desk at home and did not make the trip with
us. Therefore, we had to go by memory, which, admittedly, was not so good that evening. I'll save you the long drive up and
down the street, past the house we were pretty sure was ours, not once but several times. Let's just say that in the end we
had the right place, a most delightful two-story guest house with a Victorian style exterior and all the comforts of home
inside, including a hot tub out back, a Jacuzzi upstairs and a steam room in the second bathroom. Wowzer!
Our intention was to walk downtown and see some of the shops, but we were
so wiped out from the heat we opted for a tepid soak in the Jacuzzi and an early night. Our contact at the Gettysburg CVB
had set up the sort of itinerary we normally make for ourselves when in full Brit's Guide research mode, beginning with an
Orientation film called Battle in Motion at 8:30am and ending with a Ghost Tour at 9:30pm.
We arrived 15 minutes early at Patriot Point, so had time to walk around a bit and get our bearings. At 8:30am
we settled in to watch the movie, which is a new offering in the area being shown in what is otherwise used as a dinner theater.
Being so new, there were a few bugs to be worked out, such as a real screen instead of the kind you pull up from a tripod
and a real projector instead of the rigged up version that was showing the movie via computer hook-up. The connection failed
several times, but we got there in the end and proclaimed it a very worthwhile overview before seeing the Battlefield.
We hustled over to the Visitors Center by 9:45am for our meeting with a
Battlefield Guide. We checked in 5 minutes early and were told it would be a full 5 minutes before Paul, our guide, would
be out to join us as (in their words) ‘he won't move a muscle until his break is completely over'. Oh dear.
And sure enough, he was just as grouchy and cantankerous as we suspected.
This being a car tour where the guide drives you around in your own car, we sat back meekly as he took the wheel and barked
out the fact we had 3 choices in tours. Just the Monuments, History, or a Combination of Both. We were most interested in
History but also wanted to see the monuments. Like a bull pawing at the ground and snorting out a great huge waft of steam,
Paul pulled out of the parking lot and drove to our first stop. But not quite.
We stopped short of any real monuments of merit, instead pausing in front of a minor monument, where we would
stay for the next 45 minutes (with my car burning $3.09 per gallon of gas all the while) while Paul gave us a history lesson.
Just when I thought I'd lose my ever-lovin' mind, he said, ‘Ok...let's move on.'. So we did. We passed by the monuments
I knew were quite interesting, until we stopped again in front of some obscure monument for another half-hour lesson. To make
a long story short, we never really saw much and we didn't even get around the full battlefield in the 2 hours we had for
the tour, though there were a few moments of excitement (at least for me) when I thought I'd pull my own liver out through
my throat just to end the misery if we weren't going to get out of the heat of the back seat and SEE something.
In all fairness, Paul is an absolute wealth of knowledge and did provide
an excellent understanding of WHY the battles proceeded the way they did, what the thinking was on the part of each officer
as the battle changed and progressed, and he also gave us his own considered opinion of Pickett's Charge, which I will readily
admit was quite fascinating. If we had been sitting across the table from him in some authentic-looking pub downtown, quaffing
beers while we re-lived the battle it would have been among the most enjoyable of discussions I can remember having in a long
time. Taken from the back seat of a very hot car while 2 hours worth of expensive gas were being burned as we sat in idle,
it was not quite what I had hoped for, but I will grudgingly say it was still an interesting tour.
Speaking of authentic pubs, we were meeting Stacey, our CVB contact, for lunch at Farnsworth Tavern, an 1810
Federal-style building with bullet holes riddled across the side and a peanut soup well worth seeking out. I didn't know it
was supposed to be haunted until we walked in and sat down. At that point I was SURE it was haunted. You could just feel it,
but not in a bad way. Lunch was very good, but with a heat index around 115 again I opted for a chicken salad stuffed tomato
and lots of water.
Just a few doors down we found our
next stop, Shriver House. There are so many locations dedicated to the war and the soldier's perspective that the civilian
experience is sometimes lost or blurred. Shriver House takes you through the 3 day battle from the viewpoint of a woman and
her two daughters, left alone in their home when Father went off to fight. The house is fitted out as it would have been while
they were living there, with the somber addition of rifles, bedrolls and various soldier paraphernalia in the attic, which
is where a handful of soldiers fought once the women had fled to another home just out of town when the battle raged down
their street. The soldiers knocked out some of the bricks in two locations in the attic walls so as to have a clean shot down
Mother and her two girls (along with the
neighbor girl of 15) were at the farm owned by her parents, hoping to avoid the battle. However, wounded and dying soldiers
soon covered the lawn and took up every space in the home there too, so the women were pressed into service as nurses. They
eventually returned home safely (though Father would not return. He was killed during a later battle) and the neighbor girl
would go on to write a book about their experience.
an interesting aside, there was a recent study being done to test how accurate a new technique was that was designed to show
bloodstains even after the blood had been cleaned up. The crew doing the testing came to Shriver House and tested the floors
and walls in the upstairs attic. Sure enough, though it had been cleaned up right after the battle, the tell-tale sign of
a dead or wounded sniper showed in a great puddle on the floor and spatter marks on the wall. If you look a the picture the
owners of Shriver House were given by the crew, you can also see what appears to be a bloody boot print where another soldier
must have walked across his fallen comrade's path.
I said it was a long day? We still have 4 more locations to visit, but you've done well if you've stuck with me this far.
I'll post a second half separately so it doesn't seem like you're reading a novel all in one go.
July 30, 2006
spent a little longer at Shriver House than we expected when the owner came out to greet us (‘Are you the writers?').
She showed us a series of pictures taken during the restoration phase of the house, which had been left empty (its saving
grace) due to the fact the man who owned it before it became a museum was not one to part with his belongings. Apparently
he also had every car he'd ever owned still sitting on his back lawn at the time he passed away, so it was a bit of a wait
before Shriver House would be purchased and renovated. All the while we were talking, a very naughty kitten was fixin' to
do what kittens do on the nice clean rug, so the homeowner had to stop and coax Kitty upstairs to find the litter box. We
had to run a bit to make our next meeting, which was a downtown walking tour with a guide in period costume.
I'll make this next part as short as possible. We'd been told all day how
it's not uncommon to see people walking around in full Civil War garb, just for the fun of it. Remember that, and the fact
we were told we'd be meeting a woman named Pat who would be in period dress and carrying a basket. When we pulled up to the
meeting point we immediately took note of the whiskered old gentleman in full woolen uniform, a Union Soldier come to life.
How delightful to see this grizzled old man living out a time he could almost but not quite remember! We smiled at him as
we took a seat on a bench, since Pat had not yet arrived. An hour later we placed a frantic call to Stacey, our CVB girl,
who placed a frantic call to Pat, who turned up in full period dress, carrying a basket, just as we figured out the old Union
Soldier was sent in her stead to guide us around the downtown. Apologies all around, relief on our part and on Pat's part,
as she thought something horrid must have happened to John (the soldier) since he was never late when he was sent to guide
people in Pat's absence. Pat went back home to her gardening and we started off on our tour with John.
It turned out he was heartier than anyone could imagine, walking around
in 113 degree heat in full woolen uniform, telling us all about the historic buildings downtown, especially as they related
to his own family. We could not have chosen a more delightful guide or a better way to suffer the heat while enjoying a good
tale. John has written several small books telling the stories his family passed down, having had two relatives who were doctors
in Gettysburg during the battle. He told us of one doctor's son, a boy of only 13, who made his way over to the church across
the street from his home after it had been pressed into service (as all churches were) as makeshift hospitals. The young man
spend every day of the battle and the weeks the followed tending to the wounded and the dying, making their final moments
or their convalescence as easy as possible. Simon and I thought of our own boys (mine being 13, too), and what that must have
been like for a lad of that age to see so much suffering while giving so much comfort. A drink of water for a dying man at
the hand of a young boy must have been the closest thing to a mothers loving touch as could be imagined under such hellish
circumstances. We began to feel the pull of Gettysburg, not only from the standpoint of bravery in battle but also from the
perspective of the townspeople who spent the next several months saving lives and burying the dead. By the end of the tour
we felt like family, as if John had taken us into his home and given us the gift of his history. Find him if you go to Gettysburg
and ask him to tell you his story. I truly regret we did not have our picture taken with him, a precious opportunity missed.
When Stacey offered to set up our itinerary we expected she'd organize a
few of the obvious things in the area, but were surprised and delighted with our next stop. Simon has always had access to
the fine wines of Europe, Australia and Africa and we also enjoy a good California wine now and then, so it was with great
interest that we learned there were several wineries in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Our next stop took us to a small tasting
room in the downtown area where we sampled the likes of Tears of Gettysburg, Rebel Red, Redd Buttler (yes, Redd Butler) and
(wait for it....) Sweet Scarlett. Adams Country Winery is located just outside of town and was a bit of a surprise, with a
few of the wines actually being not only drinkable but also pleasant. I've been to wineries in Michigan and Washington DC
and would rather water the lawn with their wines than drink them. One wine I had in Michigan was so bad I actually added sugar
to it, hoping it would improve to the point of being able to pass down my throat, but it only made it worse, if that's even
We sipped at the wine offerings, but not too
much since we had been given a dinner appointment at one of the area's finest Inns. We freshened up back at Cricket House
(it was 113 degrees, remember, and we were getting a bit skanky), then made our way out of town to a small inn called Herr
Tavern and Publick House. Herr Tavern has a fascinating history, having been the site of a counterfeiting operation, a stop
along the Underground Railroad and, along with the churches in the area, a hospital during the Civil War. Some say it was
also a brothel at one point, but if that's the case, the walls aren't talking. They are, however, talking when it comes to
the Tavern's use as a hospital. You can honestly feel the soldier's agony in that building, I kid you not, and you can imagine
the sawed off limbs being thrown out the window onto a cart piled high with its gruesome cargo.
In spite of this rather unappetizing fact, Herr Tavern was one of the finest meals we have had in a very long
time. We moaned and rolled our eyes as we ate, shamefully cleaning our plates (well, almost) and downing most of the bottle
of wine they graciously offered us when we arrived. Simon and our ‘water boy' made a game of it, with Simon hiding his
water glass in various locations around the dining room (we were alone in a small alcove room, at least to begin with), but
the waiter was too good. He barely had to look before he spotted his prey. I guess you get a sixth-sense when you serve that
much water, and we were sucking it down like it was...well...water!
of food, wine and water, we toured the Inn portion of the building, then had to make a dash for it to be on time for our 9:30pm
Ghost Tour. This is where things took a turn for the strange. I don't know what I expected, but this sort of tour is right
up my street. We joined a moderate-sized group, led by a costumed guide who, by all accounts, knows some of the ghosts by
name. Our first stop was in a field where a ghost she says is named George lives. She described how he likes to play with
women's hair, how he often walks up behind her or the other guests and puts a hand lightly on their shoulder, and how there
are several other ghosts in the area, each with its own favorite ‘haunting spot'. She told us George had been very active
recently and that we had a good chance of ‘seeing' him that night.
However, (surprise!) we didn't see him, nor did we see any of his field-dwelling companions. Before we left
the area our guide said, "I wonder if he's passed over?" Someone in the crowd said, "No." Then she said,
"Is he here now?" and again, the answer ‘No'. Suddenly, I realized everyone was looking at me. The guide was
also looking at me and said, "Is he mad at me?" That's when I realized I'd been the one saying No. How embarrassing!
I got all flustered and said "I have no idea if he's mad at you", but I really wanted to crawl under a rock.
The guide walked next to me for a while, asking me about ‘special
talents' and telling me about her daughter, who is sensitive to these things but is terrified by them, too. We had a very
pleasant chat until we reached the next stop, when she began telling us the area had an underground stream that, during the
war, had been an above ground stream. Bodies that had fallen into the stream during battle had washed downstream, ending in
a log-jam of sorts right on that very spot as they clogged up the water trying to pass under a bridge that had been there
at the time. She told us one man's corpse had so much pressure on it from the pile up that his teeth stuck in the wood frame
of the bridge when they pulled him out. Cool!!
has been paved over but, according to our guide, the ghosts of the soldiers still haunt the underground area. There happens
to be a grate in the pavement and, as legend has it, if you stand on the grate you'll feel soldier's hands grasping your ankles,
trying to pull themselves out of the water. (Ooooh, spooky!) Simon stood on the grate, but the soldiers must have been busy
doing other things. Either that, or they'd figured out the tourists weren't going to be any help at all and they'd gone down
river on their own, looking for greener pastures.
were several other convenient stops that all looked like convincing locations for ghosts (an old barn where a crazy soldier
is said to live in the basement and the ghost of a young girl, hung by her father when he found out she was pregnant, is supposed
to dwell) but the truth is, other than the area where George was supposed to be, there really was no sense of otherworldly
happenings. Still, it was fun to hear ghost stories in the dark and to see the tourists snapping pictures of empty windows,
hidden cellars and the one thing that did show up that night....a cannon ball from the Civil War that was still stuck in the
upper story of a cranky old woman's house. We were told we could take pictures but to be quiet there as the woman was not
at all happy to have ghost seekers scrounging around her porch every night during high season.
It had been a thoroughly enjoyable day, hotter than the blazes of hell but full of the sort of stories Simon
and I love to hear. Stories of valor, stories of fear and bravery, stories of people overcoming the greatest of challenges
on their way to a whole new country. I'm a flag waver and proud of it, and Gettysburg made this patriot's heart beat just
a little bit faster, with pride in those who made it all happen.