The thing about going to Gettysburg is when you come back people ask Did you have a good time in Gettysburg? And it feels so wrong to say yes because it’s Gettysburg, site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. So instead of answering I dribble coffee on my dress. Say, Oh, man. And walk away to accentuate the brown spots with larger wet spots. We checked into a motel on Emmitsburg Road on a spring day. While not technically in Gettysburg many of the affordable places on this road are less than 5 miles from the battlefields. The places in town looked nice, but cost much more. Our motel was fine. We’ve learned to embrace the serial killer hunting ground vibe.
Not knowing what to expect, Raj brought along a few books to guide us: Weird Civil War and Gettysburg: A Guided Tour Through History. The second book elaborated on each of the 16 stops along the 24-mile chronological, self-guided auto tour. First we stopped in the visitor center to grab a map and stamp our National Parks passport, as all the coolest peeps do.
The forecast called for an afternoon sprinkle. Clouds moved in just as we parked at the first stop. Lightning illuminated the dark skies as we pulled into the second stop. It rained off and on for the rest of the day. Gettysburg is not a place to complain about rain when you think about the wet, humid conditions so many men fought and died in. Our first day’s stops focused on the Confederate side, including the site of Pickett’s Charge. The rain slowed as we walked a path where General Lee met what remained of his troops after the devastating loss.
Walking along Lee’s path, we looked back and saw a double rainbow.
We usually prefer to wander new places on our own, but there were so many ghost tours in town at night and everyone on them looked mesmerized and happy. We drank the punch. Expectations were low, but they weren’t low enough. Highlights of our tour included petting a greyhound belonging to a fellow sucker and waiting in the rain for 20 minutes.
Maybe some tours don’t suck.
On our way to the car we stopped at a fence bordering Gettysburg National Cemetery. I busied myself complaining about the tour while Raj looked out and saw someone walking inside. He took a picture but the person he saw was gone. The only possible explanation is paranormal. He totally saw a ghost and not a late night sneaker-inner.We started our next day with a short hike up Big Round Top.
Then over to the Breastworks
on Little Round Top.
Down to the Devil’s Den.
It’s strange. The Devil’s Den boulders seem to bring out the climber in every visitor. You want to play by day and wonder about the ghosts at night. Considering the death toll here, the name is fitting, though it preceded the Civil War. We climbed up and ate a sandwich, taking it in while thinking if there are ghosts in Gettysburg they must be here.
Later, we arrived near the Pennsylvania State Memorial just in time to watch reenactors fire a cannon. Raj is a much bigger history buff than I. Having recently read Confederates in the Attic, he had all sorts of questions for these fellows. They seemed pretty dedicated and knowledgeable, but do they drink peanut coffee? Nope.
From April-November the park stays open till 10 pm. This gives you enough time to grab a cider and eat then return to what many experts? claim is one of the most active paranormal places. A handful of people were setting up tripods and speaking into recorders when we arrived back at Devil’s Den. I am home to both a skeptic and a believer (the believer is more fun). Believer asked permission to take some more pictures while skeptic looked out for snakes and other fun critters. Then I got sad for the soldiers and their families. So much of what you take in during a day here doesn’t sink in until it gets dark.A full moon lit up the night like a bright bulb powered by electricity, which would soon be a distant memory. Back at the murder motel, we were confused when none of the lights in the room turned on. No water either. A power outage adds all sorts of excitement to a trip. You get to fumble in the dark for your toiletries. You get to drive to a roadside rest room so you can brush your teeth and wash a bit before reluctantly driving back to the tune of who’s-idea-was-it-to-stay-here. Mine. Did I mention we were the motel’s only guests?
Power came back on at 3:37 am. I know because every light in the room flashed on, the minifridge rumbled back to life and the sink, which we must’ve left on in the confusing darkness, turned on full blast. Not a disturbing way to be ripped from sleep at all.
Two days was the perfect amount of time for us in Gettysburg. This was my first visit to a battlefield. I’m not sure how to sum up the experience of immersing myself in Civil War history other than to say I won’t forget it.