Thursday, July 4, 2013

Gettysburg: When Redundancy Works!

There are two positive reference points for our exploration of Gettysburg. The first is the excursions we take when we are on a cruise and our desire is to gain an overview of some foreign country or port. The second reference point is the three private tours we have taken in 1) Beijing, 2) Rio de Janeiro, and 3) Valparaiso, Vine del Mar, and Santiago (all one excursion).

The first reference point is relevant—excursions we have taken—simply because I found Gettysburg like a foreign territory. We have never been here before (not entirely true since it has been 20-25 years and our memories are dim), we have very general—meaning not specific—ideas of the Civil War and what happened in Gettysburg, and, finally, we wanted to get an overview of the battlefield, battle, and town.

The second reference point is even stronger. We have taken three excellent private tours in the last two years, and what we did today (04-03-12) compares favorably with each of these previous tours.

Let me briefly describe what we did before taking our tour. We went from the Hampton Inn—and a wonderful, full, unlimited, hearty breakfast (and bags of food items the Inn provided for each of us that we could use for lunch)—to the Gettysburg National Military Park (1195 Baltimore Pike). There is an admission price and because a private foundation is running the Park for twenty years (only 3 years have passed!) Before turning it over to the National Park System, our Golden Passport did not work. (It gives us free admission to all national parks and monuments.)

We began with a 20-minute movie that described the 3-day batle (July 1, 2, and 3, 1863) with Morgan Freeman as the narrator. It was an excellent movie and offered a comprehensive view of the issues, the major actors in the confrontation, and the territory where it all took place.

From the theater, we were told by one of the hostesses to make sure our shoes were tied (there was a busload of young people in the front rows), because we moved from the theater up a 2-story escalator to the cyclorama located at the top of this huge, 10-sided building. The cyclorama requires viewers to walk around during the narration, to take in the entire landscape. It is truly a superb spectacle and when we left the cyclorama via a one-story staircase, we could read on the floor below the cyclorama, how this mural was created.

We walked down a second flight of stairs and into the museum portion of the National Military Park building. The exhibits, artifacts, recreations, additional short movies, descriptions, and various displays further explained—through behind-the-scenes, and specific, detailed examinations—what we saw in the movie and cyclorama. It is as if the museum offers the reinforcement, support, and buttressing that supplies the evidence—the depth—for understanding the whole experience. The redundancy is both appreciated and educational.

From the museum we went to the Museum Book Store where, in addition to books, there are a wide variety of interesting sourvenirs. In addition, they had four levels of audio tours available: 1) for kids; 2) a short version for those without sufficient time; 3) a a mid-priced tour (the most popular audio tour) that takes approximately 2 1/2-hours; and 4) an elaborate tour that not only takes longer but adds increased depth and more description. We purchased the thir option.

The "Gettysburg’s #1 Audio Tour" narrated by Wayne Motts, the Executive Director of the Adams County Historical Society and a popular Licensed Battlefield Guide. We were not disappointed (even though the cost, about $26.00 with tax, was a bi high).

Along with the double CD Audio Tour (explanation of 7 points of interest on each CD), there is an 8-page, full color, "Gettysburg Field Guide, 2nd ed." that accompanies them that offers maps, pictures, early photographs, photographs of each of the generals, and the various battlefield maneuvers, deployments, and activities for each of the three days of the battle.

As an aside, when we entered the National Military Park building, the gentleman who first greeted us gave us important information. First, he told us (suggested) the order of our exploration (the order I have described was based on his suggestion). Second, he said we would get a complete explanation of the battle and battlegrounds from the movie and exhibits, and that we should make the decision to purchase the audio tour only after viewing and seeing these. And, three, he said we could do the auto tour with the brochure he handed us alone. That was the decision we had to make. (Our unanimous decision after taking the audio tour was that it was well worth the expense!)

We began the auto tour from the parking lot, and there are three positive benefits of using the CD: 1) The tour route is clearly morked. We were told on the CD that during the summer months, the roads can get crowded and the parking spaces can be full. Even at this time a year (on a beautiful day, I might add), we noticed how bad it could be if it were high season. Already, there were a number of tour buses and many cars, but we were always able to find parking places at the numbered tour stops.

The second advantage of using the CD is the clear, thorough explanations given at each of the tour stops. Before departing our van, we would sit quietly and listen to Wayne Motts talk. (After the tour was over, I asked our grandchildren, aged 14, 11, and 10, whether they liked the tour, and their response was unanimously positive.)

The third advantage of using the CD was not just the narration between each of the stops but how well Motts would prepare us for what we were about to see. Although we had a comprehensive understanding, to be in the field where the battles actually took place is significantly different than seeing a movie, viewing exhibits, or overlooking the cyclorama.

As an aside, our daughter prepared her three kids for this trip by watching the four-hour-movie "Gettysburg" before coming to Gettysburg,

The auto tour took us from the Visitor Center, to McPherson Ridge, Oak Hill, Oak Ridge, Seminary Ridge, the North Carolina Memorial, Virginia Memorial, Pitzer Woods, Warfield Ridge, Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, The Wheatfield, The Peach Orchard, Trostle Farm, Father Corby, Pennsylvania Memorial, Spangler’s Spring, Culp’s Hill, and High Water Mark. At most of these places, we got out and walked around the monuments and read the information placards.

It is impossible, of course, to describe each of our tour stops in detail, but each was unique, worth a stop, and impressive for its part in the battle and for its place on the battlefield.

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Copyright July, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC

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