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!
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!
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!
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?