By Judy Bereza, Guest Blogger
Gettysburg. Just the name evokes images for us, as Americans. That battlefield, that clashing of huge armies in orchards and farmland, that unspeakable toll of wounded and dead, and later, that Address.
My husband and I always knew we would make what can best be described as a pilgrimage to that small town in Pennsylvania. I’m glad we didn’t do it earlier inour lives – we needed age and accompanying maturity to fully understand the scope and impact of what happened there.
Gettysburg National Park and Visitor Center
We began our tour with a visit to the Gettysburg National Park and Visitor Center. This handsome building houses a fascinating museum and the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama, which can only be described as jaw dropping. In this age of Imax, it still has the power to elicit goose bumps. The painting was created by French artist Paul Philippoteaux along with 20 assistants. The canvas measures a breathtaking 377 feet in circumference , 42 feet high, and took over a year to complete. After a complete restoration begun in 2005, taking 5 years and 15 million dollars, the painting,with accompanying light and sound, immerses visitors in the experience of Pickett’s Charge, the furious, culminating battle at Gettysburg.
How to experience the battlefield?
How to experience that battlefield? There are written guides with maps that take you around, bus tours, and even tours by bicycle. However, if you wish a complete, yet personal experience, contact the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides. Our guide was Debra Novotny, a recently retired high school History teacher and a guide since 1975. We felt we were in the presence of a memorable teacher, one who made the battle come alive on a grand scale, but also revealing the small, intimate stories that make up the tapestry of that tragic struggle.
What about Gettysburg itself? The town still has many buildings from the time of the battle, some still with holes in their facades made by cannons and bullets. Since some of the fighting took place within the town limits, it is, at the risk of a cliché, a walk through history. There are restaurants, of course. Some historic, and of the period. Bed and Breakfasts abound. We stayed at the Lodges at Gettysburg, removed from the town in a pastoral setting and overlooking the battlefield. Each room is an individual cabin, rustic in appearance, but newly constructed and supremely comfortable.
On November 19, four months after the battle, President Lincoln stood on a hill overlooking the battlefield, and spoke for two minutes. We all know those words, just words, but they have come to symbolize the very foundation of our democracy. If you have the chance to visit the place where they were spoken you will be changed. It’s that simple, and that profound.
Judy Bereza is a retired interior designer/kitchen expert, constant walker and “Nana” to three adorable grand children. She and her friends have hiked in Wales, Cornwall, Switzerland, Smokey Mountain National Park and Ireland.
Occasionally she veers off the trail to explore a different kind of travel adventure that includes her husband.