With the 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address just a few days away on November 19, 2013, the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is nearing the end of a series of events honoring Lincoln’s famous address, the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. What an incredible opportunity my family was given to visit Gettysburg and take in the awesome history surrounding it.
Gettysburg was just one stop on our five-day journey through South Central Pennsylvania, and the stop my husband, Danny (who minored in History) and I most looked forward to. But, we were a bit worried about how our six-year-old daughter, Reagan would hold up the day we visited the Gettysburg National Military Park, Museum and Visitor Center.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with Kids
We prepared Reagan ahead of time on the subject matter, on a level she could understand, and explained that this would be a “Mommy/Daddy day,” and that her day would come after when we visited Hershey Park. After all, there should be something for everyone on a family vacation. We also believe it’s good for our daughter to expose her to history even at an early age where she might not be able to understand it, but we hope she will begin to grow an appreciation for it.
The Park Museum and Visitor Center in Gettysburg
We started our day at the museum with the Cyclorama, followed by the Morgan Freeman narrated film, A New Birth of Freedom. Cycloramas were the movies of the 1800’s, brought to life with special lighting effects (simulating cannon fire for example), sound, narration and other objects (such as weaponry, bushes and rocks) in the foreground to add depth. Viewers stand on a platform in the middle of the painting and watch the battle play out around them.
The Cyclorama and movie had just enough going on to hold Reagan’s interest and because it was early in the morning, fatigue hadn’t set in and she hadn’t reached her limit yet with “big people, boring stuff.”
Also of interest to Reagan was the Amish family attending the Cyclorama with us. There were just as many questions about why they were dressed the way they were as there was about the Cyclorama. Since Amish culture was new to us too, we promised her she’d learn more when we visited Amish Country in Lancaster in a few days.
Going into this trip, we had concerns about how graphic the exhibits and movies at the museum might be, but it all turned out to be very PG. The Museum Experience includes 12 exhibit galleries containing artifacts and interactive displays that educate visitors on the Civil War and the importance of the Battle of Gettysburg.
There are several ways to tour the 6,000 acre battlefield: take a self-guided tour using an audio CD or official park map, or by bus or car with a licensed Battlefield Guide. Each tour option takes approximately 2.5 hours to complete. You could spend days doing walking tours of the park as well.
Getting a personal tour guide in your car is also the most economical way to go if there are at least two of you. Consider it costs $65 for 1-6 people in a car, versus $30 per adult, $18 per child for a bus tour.
Stops on the tour are typically at monuments that mark important points of the battle or statues honoring Confederate and Union Civil War generals. The monuments have been placed by Union and Confederate veterans marking where their units fought on the battlefield and others were erected by the states that fought in the war honoring their fallen.
Having our own Battlefield Guide give us a tour in our car was a blessing in more ways than one. Not only were we able to have one-on-one question and answer time, taking as long as we wanted at each stop, but it was completely uninterrupted as Reagan decided to nap the entire 2.5 hours. Try that on a bus.
The Town of Gettysburg
Our tour guide drove us from the battlefield and into town, where he pointed out several original buildings, many with bullet holes still marking their walls, that remain from when Confederate soldiers first came marching down the streets of Gettysburg.
One building our guide pointed out because it had the most visible damage with more than 100 pockmarks left by bullets in its brick exterior, was also where we decided to have a period fare dinner that evening. At Farnsworth House Inn, period dressed servers serve PA Dutch Chicken Pot Pie, Pumpkin Fritters and Pickled Watermelon Rinds in an authentically restored dining room lit by candlelight. I ordered the Meatloaf, Danny had the Game Pie and Reagan had the Slippery Chicken Pot Pie off the Children’s Menu. All were delicious and the unique atmosphere made for a fun and educational evening that even Reagan enjoyed. Farnsworth House Inn is known as one of the most haunted locations in America with a history pre-dating the Civil War.
We drove to Lincoln Square, which is actually a circle, and made note of David Will’s house where President Lincoln spent the night and finished writing the Gettysburg Address the night before he delivered it.
Also in Lincoln Square is the Gettysburg Hotel where after the war, the Sisters of Charity nursed wounded soldiers in the parlors of the hotel. On November 18, 1863, the night before the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery, the Gettysburg Hotel was so full that people were sleeping in the lobbies and the barroom as every hotel in town was filled to capacity. Fortunately, they had room for us that night, as it was where we had planned to lay our heads.
Our guide drove us by the newly opened Seminary Ridge Museum and recommended we visit afterward. The exhibits at Seminary Ridge focus on aspects and consequences of the war, some of which were too graphic for Reagan, so we skipped those parts. However, the history of the building itself and remaining exhibits were too important to pass up. The museum occupies one of three buildings that make up the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary and is the site of the first days of fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg.
Reagan may not get it now, but we stressed to her how one day, she would be able to brag to her friends how she had visited Gettysburg and toured the battlefield where the Civil War was fought and concluded. No one has to know she slept through the entire tour. That’ll be just between us.
To read our full 3-day, family-friendly itinerary for our visit to South Central Pennsylvania, including Gettysburg, Lancaster and Hershey, please visit MamaBirdsBlog.com.