Gettysburg Now

Today Gettysburg is a busy town with many small businesses, often ones based on the town’s famous place in American history. The citizens and local government have worked together to protect the buildings and grounds from too much “progress” that would have diminished the power of a sacred past here.

I love visiting this place. The people are kindred spirits (and some even believe in ghostly spirits!) when it comes to loving and wanting to protect historic places. In my book, I spend a little time going over the history of Gettysburg and Adams County. I felt it was important to teach my readers how this little town began as a crossroad stop, serving visitors who needed a place to rest from their journeys. It seems to have been its destiny to welcome outsiders. While only 2,400 lived there in 1863, Gettysburg is still small by most measures at about 7,500 residents. Many of the buildings have been preserved, including the marks where bullets and shot pocked the bricks. Gettysburg4

Walking around the main streets, still set up in the wheel-spoke design from its inception, you’ll find charming shops, museums, bookstores, restaurants, bed-and-breakfast houses, and local businesses. A lovely county library is within a few steps of Tillie’s house on Baltimore Street. The library staff is especially helpful and nice. You can also visit shops where you can be fitted for period clothing, made of materials based on what was available in the 1860s.

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Just down the street, you can go through the Jennie Wade House and Museum, where the only civilian was killed during the historic battle. Ghost tours, including one at Jennie’s house, are popular with some visitors. I went on one, mostly just to say I’d done it, and found the history described by the tour guides much more interesting than the idea of hauntings. No ghosts were sited that night, anyway.

GBG 201222As you widen your visit, you’ll find not only more excellent museums and specialty shops, but you’ll also soon find yourself at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The sheer size and scope of the place is enough to silence anyone. Signs remind visitors to be respectful, and a poem appears in separate stanzas as you walk the perimeter of the cemetery (seven stanzas exist; I understand there once were seventeen, from Theodore O’Hara’s poem, “Bivouac of the Dead.”) Here is Stanza #6:

Your own proud land’s heroic soil
Shall be your fitter grave;
She claims from war his richest spoil –
The ashes of her brave.

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