We took a little day trip to Gettysburg National Military Park yesterday. The weather was unseasonably cold. But, we had a great time.
Gettysburg is 50 miles from Baltimore, MD and 81 miles from Washington D.C. The park is huge and there are lots of ways to explore. Start your day at the visitor center. Here, you’ll find a film narrated by Morgan Freeman, a Museum, and a “cyclorama.” Admission for all three is $18.75 for adults and $13.75 or kids under 13. There is a discount for seniors, veterans, and AAA members. Active duty military and children under 5 are free.
The film does a great job of explaining the complexities of the civil war. It’s much more than North vs South or Slavery vs Emancipation. It notes that Lincoln was much more interested in unifying the country than freeing the slaves. Many of the men who fought for the Confederate States had never owned slaves and didn’t intend to. The North’s economy of mills and textiles was dependent on southern cotton and the banks were dependent on agriculture. The film navigates this multifaceted time in history really well. The museum includes artifacts, short films, and displays showing Civil War medicine, uniforms, weapons, and everyday objects. The cyclorama was very interesting. I didn’t know what a cyclorama was before going to Gettysburg. It turns out it is an oil painting. It is oriented so that you stand on a platform and the painting wraps around the platform to form a 360 degree view. In this case, the painting is called, The Battle of Gettysburg. It’s a depiction of Pickett’s Charge. Amazingly, the painting was created in 1884. It is 377 feet long, forty-two feet high, and weighs 12.5 tons. It is a massive painting with so much detail that you really can’t take it all in. There is a narration telling the story of the pivotal battle. As you hear cannons fire, different elements of the canvas are illuminated drawing your attention to another detail you may have missed. I stood on the platform for a full fifteen minutes taking it in. It made for a very dramatic experience. In the 1800’s cycloramas were popular attractions. Today, there are very few cycloramas left in the world. So, it was very special to see this artifact from another time and place.
After, the film, cyclorama, and museum, we headed to the sprawling gift shop and bookstore. My daughter and her friend found candy to buy and I bought a book to read on the bus ride home. Then, we met up with our group and had a 2 hour narrated tour of the battlefield itself. Being a tour guide in Gettysburg, PA is taken extremely seriously. According to gettsyburgtourguides.org, “Since 1915 five-hundred-ninety-nine individuals have successfully completed the government testing, training and licensing process earning a license to guide. The process has evolved through the years to today’s Tiered process: application, written exam, competitive panel interview, intensive weekend training seminar, oral examination, and finally licensing.” There are lots of variations of tours, even one up to eight hours long! They range anywhere from $75-$349. I’ll be honest, when our tour guide boarded the bus and explained to a group of young kids that this was a 2 HOUR tour. I thought, “Oh no. This is going to be bad.” But, I was wrong. We had a lot of stops and photo opportunities. He was very interesting and pointed out things that I definitely would have missed without a guide. However, I will say, if you aren’t a “history person” this probably isn’t the best option for you.
Since I didn’t plan this trip and was just along for the ride this time. I did a little research and found some other options that may be more appealing to folks who aren’t as happily nerdy as us.
I don’t have any personal experience with these companies. But, this is what I found.
Segway battlefield tours at segtours.com. Cost is between $60 and $80 per person-plus tip. They have good reviews online and they also have tours available that aren’t history tours at all.
There are several companies that offer haunted tours including, Mark Nesbitt’s candlelight “Ghosts of Gettysburg” tours.
Check out confederatetrails.com for horseback tours or Gettysburg Heritage Center for Horse drawn Carriage Tours.
There are lots of ways to explore the military park in Gettysburg. Enjoy the history lesson!