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Visit the David Wills House while in Gettysburg

October 15, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

Taking Grandchildren to Gettysburg

A visit to Gettysburg tugs on your heart, bewilders the mind and saddens the soul. Yet, it brings forth honor and hope and perhaps, even a sense of peace. At least it did for me.

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Taking the grandkids to Gettysburg

I took my two oldest grandchildren, ages 9 and 11, the day after we visited Chocolate World in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Nine-year-old Kyra put it astutely, “Mimi, these two places are polar opposites.”  Yes, they are. Hershey was delicious fun, play time and laughter. Gettysburg was a solemn history lesson.

What does the chasing of history achieve? Does it matter where events took place and whether or not we can understand them?

Gettysburg National Military Park

Gettysburg National Military Park

Our first stop was the Gettysburg Military Park Headquarters and Visitors Center where we watched a movie narrated by  Morgan Freeman. The film explained the overwhelming loss of life that happened in this small town 150 years ago, some 57,225 causalities (dead, wounded, captured or missing) from both sides during the three-day campaign. The movie also described how the Union victory helped end the Civil War and bring forth the Emancipation Proclamation.

Detail in one section of the Gettysburg Cyclorama

Detail in one section of the Gettysburg Cyclorama

After the film, we climbed stairs to view the historic and restored Cyclorama, the largest painting in the US.  French artist Paul Philippoteaux and his team painted the 377 foot long (now 359)  by 42 feet high work in 1883, 30 years after the battle.  The 360-degree cylindrical painting depicts  Pickett’s Charge, the climactic Confederate attack on the Union forces during the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863.

Children watch the sound and light show.

Children watch the sound and light show.

This type of presentation, popular at the turn-of- the-century, was intended to immerse viewers in the scene with the addition of foreground models and life-sized replicas to enhance the illusion. The grandkids and I were fascinated by the sound and light show effects on articles, like canon, and how they created a realistic intensity to the work of art. (Tip: we visited near the end of the day and practically had the space to ourselves.)

 

David Wills House

David Wills House

But, it was our visit to the David Wills House the next morning that brought the story of Gettysburg together. The old brick home in the center of town was filled with  wounded and dying soldiers after the battle. Leading citizens met there to make plans for proper burials. Wills, an attorney, acquired land for the National Cemetery and sent President Lincoln an invitation by telegram. This led to his coming to Gettysburg and giving the most famous speech in American history.

Lincoln spent the night before the dedication in the Wills House revising his intended remarks. His short speech the next day surprised many, but his words – known as the Gettysburg Address – are long remembered.

Lincoln Bedroom in Gettysburg

Lincoln Bedroom in Gettysburg

While touring the upstairs of the Wills House, including the bedroom as it was during Lincoln’s stay, we saw another film. This one clearly revealed how the freedoms won by the Emancipation Proclamation were not truly fulfilled. The production showed the rise of the Klux Klux Klan and how segregation became a way of life in the South.

The presentation also included footage of Martin Luther King giving his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which had days before celebrated a 50th anniversary and was, therefore, familiar in my grandchildren’s minds. The movie ends with LBJ signing the Civil Rights Bill and more current American scenes.

Cleary, even now, not all men are treated equally; discrimination still occurs and struggles continue.  But, I left the Wills House with a feeling of deeper compassion and hopeful expectation. I think my grandchildren did, too. They are our future and taking them to a place like this is worthwhile. History has meaning, when we try to understand, but that’s not to say fun is frivolous.  On the contrary, both are necessary.

Visitor Center Gift Shop

Visitor Center Gift Shop

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150th Commemoration

Every November 19th, Gettysburg commemorates the cemetery dedication and the delivery of the Gettysburg Address on Dedication Day. This year will mark the 150th commemoration.

Dedication Day will be held at Soldiers’ National Cemetery and will include a Wreath Laying Ceremony at 10 a.m., followed by a formal ceremony. Speaking will be Pulitzer Prize-winning author and noted American Civil War historian James McPherson. The formal ceremony will feature candidates taking the United States Oath of Citizenship and a $5,000 scholarship will be awarded to a Pennsylvania student as part of the “In Lincoln’s Footsteps” speech competition. Music will be provided by the U.S. Marine Corps Band and nationally renowned Lincoln portrayer James Getty will deliver a recitation of the Gettysburg Address.

Coinciding with Dedication Day and the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address is Remembrance Day, to be held this year on Saturday, Nov. 23. Gettysburg residents and visitors annually commemorate the sacrifices made during and after the battle.

Remembrance Day will begin with a Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Service at the Woolson Monument in Zeigler’s Grove in the Gettysburg National Military Park at 11 a.m. The service will be followed by the 57th Annual Remembrance Day Parade, which will step off downtown at 1 p.m. in remembrance of the soldiers who served during the Civil War.

The 11th Annual Remembrance Illumination will take place on Nov. 23 at Soldiers’ National Cemetery from 5:30-9:30 p.m. Luminary candles will be lit on the graves of each of the Civil War soldiers to commemorate the sacrifices made at Gettysburg.

For more information on Dedication Day and Remembrance Day events, visit www.gettysburgcivilwar150.com.

Battlefield Memorials in Gettysburg

Battlefield Memorials in Gettysburg

Take the Iron Mountain Road to Mt. Rushmore

December 10, 2012 by · Comments Off on Take the Iron Mountain Road to Mt. Rushmore 

“There they are!” we both shouted simultaneously.

Mt. Rushmore

Faces on Mt. Rushmore

Chills and adrenaline ran through our bodies as we spotted our first glimpse of the presidents heads atop Mt. Rushmore.

The images of four Presidential faces carved in granite are among the most famous in the world. But, the icon stands in the Black Hills of South Dakota, sacred North American Indian lands, which are pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Badlands National Park, SD

Badlands National Park, SD

My friend Judy and I made a trip to Sioux Falls and decided it was the perfect opportunity to visit the state’s awe-inspiring Badlands and Mt. Rushmore. Teddy Roosevelt described the Badlands saying, “Nothing could be more lonely and nothing more beautiful than the view at nightfall across the prairies to these huge hill masses, when the lengthening shadows had at last merged into one and the faint after-glow of the red sunset filled the west.”

 

Sun begins to set in the Badlands, SD

Sun begins to set in the Badlands, SD

We spent one afternoon and evening among the deep desolate canyons, towering spires and rugged buttes. Sadly, that amount of time is not nearly enough.

 

The next day we drove the Needles Highway in Custer State Park seeing spiky mountain peaks and bison walking down the road. Rangers encouraged us to drive north on the Iron Mountain Road for the best approach to Mt. Rushmore. Little did we know the next 17 miles would turn into one of the most thrilling road trips.

 

 

First glimpse of Mt. Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road

First glimpse of Mt. Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road

Unlike its heavy, rigid sounding name, the Iron Mountain Road snakes around itself with a series of bridges, known as pigtail bridges, and through tunnels barely wide enough for one car. The term pigtail should not be confused with the hairstyle—think of a tightly twisted pig’s tail or a 720 degree spiral. The road’s construction, in the 1930’s,  ranks as a marvel of engineering and has been termed “the by-way that couldn’t be built.”

 

Closer view of Mt. Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road

Closer view of Mt. Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road

Since Judy and I made a point of pulling over at each scenic overlook, we naturally stopped at the first one. Our car was the only vehicle in the lot and the landscape seemed non-descript, like an ordinary field.  But then….way off in the distance we spied a tiny white outcropping on the side of a mountain. It included four heads!  Woo-hoo, our first glance at Mt. Rushmore in person.

 

I leap out of the car as if pushed by an ejection button.  I was truly eyeing a place I thought I’d never see. As we proceeded, the road continued to flirt with seduction,  offering a sneak peek here and there. The views got better and better as we drove along.  At one stop we caught site of George Washington through an opening in the trees.  Further along, we squeezed our car through a one-lane tunnel which acted like a dramatic portal.  Iron Mountain’s  summit offered a stunning but still distant vista of the 60-foot tall carvings.

Tunnel on the Iron Mountain Road

Tunnel on the Iron Mountain Road

Eventually we arrived at the National Memorial and strolled down the Avenue of the Americas lined with each of the 50 state flags. We stared up at the immense work of Gutzon Borglum, his son and 400 other workers. The project took 14 years to complete from 1927-41 and cost less than a million dollars. We ogled and pinched ourselves; when an icon looks like this, nowhere becomes somewhere.

 

Take my word:  Mt. Rushmore is one of those places you should see up close and in person. If possible, arrive via the Iron Mountain Road for an experience that will not disappoint.

 

The Magnificent Mt. Rushmore National Park

The Magnificent Mt. Rushmore National Park


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Advice from a Bison

September 20, 2012 by · Comments Off on Advice from a Bison 

Bison in Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

I bought the most wonderful beige tee shirt in Teddy Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota. The front shows a picture of bison grazing on the grasslands along with wise words of advice. I think the sentiments perfectly sum up what I learned from my trip to North and South Dakota.  Perhaps they go so far as to say what I feel about life.

 

Advice from a Bison:

  • Stand your ground.
  • Have a tough hide.
  • Keep moving on.
  • Cherish wide-open spaces.
  • Have a strong spirit.
  • Roam wild and free.
  • Let the chips fall where they may!

 

The only thing the bison seemed to have missed was: Love your family.

Free Roaming Bison Herd in Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

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