Monday, June 7, 2010


One of the many, many memorial markers at Gettysburg. Sunday’s travels, a mere 51.5 miles, brought big changes as we crossed the Mason/Dixon line just south of Gettysburg, PA.  Although the line predates the Revolutionary War (click here to read its history), it is most well known as the dividing line between southern slaveholding states and northern free states pre-Civil War, and even now marks the passage from “the South” to “the North”.  After spending the winter in the southern states, we’ve left behind the fried chicken and fried pickles, BBQ pork, greens and gumbo, shrimp, fried catfish, hushpuppies and “meat and three”.  Here, iced tea means unsweetened, and no one asks us obvious Yankees if we want our tea “sweet”. 

To us, the most welcome changes were in our weather and our campsite.  The hot humidity of the past week disappeared as a cooler, dryer front arrived in southern Pennsylvania.  After 9 days of camping in dense forest with 30 amps of electrical power, no water hookup, no sewer hookup, and no cable or satellite TV, we were so ready for our site at Artillery Ridge Campground with full hookups and an unobstructed view of the sky.  As soon as we were settled, the washing machine was chugging away and Odel was busy dumping our holding tanks.  Ah, the luxury of a long shower!

Canon on the ridge overlooking Gettysburg. Gettysburg.  Is there a reader who doesn’t recognize that name?  Nonetheless, due to my inattention in history class, I knew Gettysburg only as yet another Civil War battleground, this one particularly famous because of the eloquence of Lincoln’s address (which Odel begins orating whenever I speak the name Gettysburg) at the dedication of the military cemetery. 

We arrived with no idea of the magnitude of the national park, and no plans other than a reservation for a Segway tour of the battlefield on Tuesday.  To get our bearings, we headed to the National Park Visitor Center yesterday afternoon.

Orientation in the visitor center begins with a 22 minute film highlighting the issues leading up to the war and the significance of the battle at Gettysburg.  After it ended, doors in the back of the theatre opened, leading to escalators moving us upstairs to the Gettysburg Cyclorama (click here to read the interesting details from the NPS site).  Wow!

A scene from the Cyclorama. I’ve never heard of a cyclorama, a not-unusual form of entertainment in those long ago, pre-movie years of the late 1800’s.  Originally completed in 1883, this giant (4 stories high), circular oil painting is one of very few cycloramas remaining (making it an interesting historical artifact on its own).  After a 5 year, $13 million dollar restoration, the Gettysburg Cyclorama opened in its current round building in 2008. 

As we visitors stood on a raised platform in the center of the cyclorama, a narrator described Pickett’s Charge, the final, brutal, bloody battle at Gettysburg.  The lights in the room were dim; spotlights highlighted details of the battle as the narration progressed.  With nothing but narration, music, sound effects and lighting, we were all swept into the heat of the battle, moving from one side of the round platform to another to view the “action”.  Fascinating! 

A house on the battlefield. Thus inspired, we headed out in the car (no air conditioning required!) with a map and driving directions.  We have since driven, walked, and photographed much of the huge battlefield.  The three day battle raged through Gettysburg, the surrounding farms, and up and down valleys and hillsides, now dotted with seemingly hundreds of monuments and markers placed in the late 1800’s.   Yesterday we drove the tour route, today we walked a few miles of it, tomorrow we will take our narrated, guided Segway tour.  Who would have thought it could be so fascinating?


  1. Yeah, nothing like FHU with 50 amp!!!

    I enjoyed your post on Gettysburg today. We've been there but it has sure been a while. They have one of the best Visitor's Center and from what I read here, it's been improved now. Good to know.

    If you get back down to the Atlanta area they have a cyclorama dealing with the Civil War also. We saw it in 1999 and it was great.

    Have a fun time there in PA.

  2. I was at Gettysburg back in 1978 with a large group of fellow factory workers. My thoughts at the time was that it felt like a very special place. Have always wanted to return there again.....but not with a large group of people!! Had the same feeling when walking the grounds of Custer's Last Stand. Some things are best done quietly, and reflectively.

  3. Al, the day we visited Little Bighorn Monument, I forgot to take the camera. Walking that battlefield was SO evocative, particularly the markers in the gullies where soldiers attempted to hide or defend themselves. What an egomaniac Custer was, and on such a murdeous mission! Being without the camera was less distracting, but I sure wish I had photos as an aide to my faulty memory.

  4. Yikes! No more fried pickles or sweet tea! You'll have to come back to the South some day!

  5. Gettysburg is definitely high on my list of places I still want to visit. Thanks for the tour and explanation of the site.

  6. Awesome is such an overused word but Gettysburg is awesome. To think you are walking on ground where young men gave their lives... "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

  7. Laurie and Odel, there is a cyclorama in Atlanta as well. You sit, and the seats move so you see the entire battle!

  8. We were there on a hot day imagining the soldiers in their uniforms making charge after charge. Exhausting! But exhilarating.

  9. We took the open-air narrated bus tour when we were there and it was very good. The narration was done by actors and it simulated the battle and the bus driver timed the route so it coincided with the narration. It was special!

  10. If you ever get a chance pick up the book Killer Angels, the greatest book about Gettysburg ever written.

  11. We headed out Sunday from the Eastern Shore of Maryland on a cross-country trip and drove through Western Maryland. We might have passed you! Wish you had made it to the Eastern Shore-it's very different from the rest of the state. I think you would like it.

    Loved your blog on the cyclorama. I grew up not far from Gettysburg and loved the cyclorama when I was a kid. You could walk right up to it and touch it back then which is probably why it needed to be restored. :) I haven't been to the new visitor's center but I've been anxious to get up there to see it. It sounds great.

    Are you going to go through Amish country? You're so close. It's very pretty there but a bit touristy. It's nice if you get out of the main towns and drive back through the farmlands.

  12. We lived in Carol Valley near Gettysburg in 2000-2001. Ask someone to point out "Site R" - a mountain used during WWII for protection. That's where Cheney was in his 'undisclosed location' and the planes were flying all around so everyone knew he was there. Camp David is near there also so during 9/11 the peace of Gettysburg vanished! Check out the golf course in Carol Valley. Also, your 5 min. hummus recipe could be more than 5 min if you soak the garbonza beans and rub them together to remove the hulls first. I read that somewhere and tried it and it does make it much smoother.