While visiting Pennsylvania, my grandchildren and I stayed at the recently renovated Gettysburg Hotel. Talk about a strategic location, this hotel is the epicenter of downtown and right in the middle of the action. We could walk all to sites of interest, restaurants, tours or shops. The only time a car is needed is if you choose to drive to distant battlefields and the National Military Park Headquarters.
The Gettysburg Hotel has a delightful new Tavern/restaurant where we ended up grabbing a quick bite before a ghost tour. The food was far above tavern quality, including a hand-made hamburger patty and delicious made from scratch soup. We sat at a high top table in the bar area and received prompt, friendly service.
Breakfast the next morning at One Lincoln (within the hotel) was worthy of praise.The decor included wallpaper with graphic lettering from the Gettysburg Address and the ceiling is copper penny colored pressed-tin My grandson’s order of pancakes could have fed a whole battalion. I chose Eggs Benedict and the poached eggs were done to perfection- still gooey in the middle but not undercooked.
Our rooms were airy and spacious, beautifully color coordinated with lots of light blue and grey, and a bathroom that allowed us to spread out. My room had a microwave and mini refrigerator, ideal for the traveler. I appreciated the complimentary high-speed Internet service in my room and throughout the hotel
The history of this hotel is fascinating; it was established in 1797 as the Scott Tavern. In 1809, William McClellan purchased the inn and changed the name to Indian Queen.
During the Civil War, the Tenth New York Calvary wintered in Gettysburg and the Quartermaster took a room at the hotel which he used for the transaction of business. After the battle, the hotel parlors were turned over to the Sisters of Charity who nursed the wounded soldiers.
As the town prepared for the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery in November 18, 1863, every hotel was filled to capacity. The Gettysburg Hotel was so full that people had to sleep in the lobbies and the bar. President Lincoln stayed in the David Wills House directly across the street from the hotel.
Today the Gettysburg Hotel is owned by Gettysburg College and operated by the Waterford Hotel Group. The facility is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a member of the Historic Hotels of America. I highly recommend this hotel for fine lodging in the town of Gettysburg. More information at: www.hotelgettysburg.com
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
The US National Park Service protects and promotes nearly 400 sites. At most locations visitors pay an admission fee. However, entrance to Independence Historic Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania remains free. That’s a good deal because the Park includes numerous attractions like Carpenter’s Hall, Franklin Court, Federal Reserve Bank, the Liberty Bell and the famed Independence Hall. Who can complain?
But, then again, shouldn’t tourists pay at least a nominal fee?
Recently I visited with my two grandchildren, ages 6 and 8, and their parents. We started at the Visitors Center where we obtained complimentary timed tickets for a tour inside the legendary center. These vouchers are available on a daily basis and prevent time wasted queuing in line.
Prior to our scheduled entry, we cleared security and entered a holding room. Now trust me, I’m a big fan of the National Park System and have never been disappointed with the value of a visit anywhere. However, on this particular occasion, the Park Ranger acting as our guide was either having a very bad day or felt the need to control others. Her opening 10-minute history lesson fell flat (as did her jokes) and many of the tourists became restless and fidgety. She would periodically stop her oratory and scold the “rude” guests, threatening to expel them. I personally felt uneasy and not particularly proud of this introduction, especially to foreign travelers.
The presence of a screen at the front of the room begged for a slide show, power point presentation or a short video. I’m sure one of these would have captivated the audience’s attention far better.
Once we entered the former Pennsylvania State House, we received another disjointed speech concerning the historical events that took place in the area. Unfortunately a group of East Indian tourists continued to talk amongst themselves- likely trying to interpret the saga. Our Ranger walked back to them and actually forced the group to leave the building. She returned and we scurried across the hall.
We arrived at the signers room, the meeting spot where the Declaration of Independence was adopted and eventually signed. Sadly, our guide’s presentation just wasn’t captivating or compelling . The grandkids weren’t able to grasp the explanation and most of the visitors seemed disconcerted. Sorry NPS– No deal. My overall impression was disappointment; surely passion can be portrayed at to the birthplace of the United States. I regrettably discourage an inside visit for children younger than 8 or 10 years.
Eventually the tour moved to the second floor and only then did I feel I was actually exploring the structure. The ascent and descent of the magnificent, wide staircase gave me the sense of traveling back in time. My footsteps were pounding the floorboards traversed by our Founding Fathers. This interaction was what I came for, to feel the history within the walls, not just stare at a roped-off room full of chairs.
Further Exploration Around the Park
Happily, our adventure through the Liberty Bell exhibition hall proved far superior. The kids loved seeing the crack in the bell and being close to the real thing, the symbol of freedom. Although the glass building is very modern, the Liberty Bell rests in a spot where visitors can look outside and see the steeple where it originally hung.
We also meandered through a portrait gallery in the Second National Bank. To my delight, this exhibit offered an opportunity to come face to face with priceless works of art. No barriers here; numerous paintings of our nation’s forefathers, dignitaries and other illustrious 18th century characters cram the space.
Afterward, we stopped for lunch at the Food Court (just what you’d expect) and walked a block to Franklin Court. Here we descended into an underground museum and watched the movie Ben and Me. The 1955 film remains as much a hit with today’s high-tech kids as it did years ago when my own youngsters first enjoyed it. I highly encourage viewing this 20-minute animated presentation.
We also stopped into Franklin’s printing office. And… guess who demonstrated the press? None other than our original Ranger guide from Independence Hall!! I was flabbergasted, but must admit she improved her act in the print shop. Here she gave a lively hands-on demonstration. Perhaps ink is her calling.
Lastly, we returned to the Visitors Center so Kyra and RJ could get their Junior Ranger badges. The Park employees reviewed the question and answer booklets and the children took a oath. Upon completion, they were also handed a set of Historical Park trading cards. As far as the kids were concerned, these tokens were the best deal of the day. Anyone want to trade a John Hancock for a Tom Jefferson??
According to the UNESCO World Heritage Statement of Significance: Independence Hall was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979 as the location where The Declaration of Independence was adopted and the U.S. Constitution framed in the 18th-century. It is listed for association with the universal principles of freedom and democracy set forth in these documents, which have had a profound impact on lawmakers and political thinkers around the world. They became the models for similar charters of other nations, and may be considered to have heralded the modern era of government.