June 3, 2014

Gettysburg Field Trip: Day 1

Wednesday, May 28: This was it. All of the cookie dough sales and fund raising events that my family had been involved in over the last six months were about to pay off. This was the morning of the Fifth Grade field trip to Gettysburg that I would be taking with my son. This would be his last hurrah with all of his friends before they move up to the Middle School in the Fall. I was really looking forward to it. The journey began in front of the school at 4:30am. All of the kids, parents, and teachers (over 120 people in all) loaded on to three large tour buses for the 5-hour drive. It's kinda funny, as the bus drove by the neighborhoods and shopping centers of my home town, it all somehow looked a little different to me. It was as if the excitement of the journey made all of the familiar sights new again. After the long drive through New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the bus finally arrived at the Gettysburg Visitor's Center to the sound of cheers from all of the kids on the bus. As a family trip, my son and I had already visited Gettysburg a few years ago, though I was happy to see that the school's itinerary had many different stops on it than the ones we had already seen, the first of which was the Gettysburg Cyclorama.

The Cyclorama is a 360-degree cylindrical painting that is 22 feet high and 279 feet in circumference. It was painted by French artist Paul Dominique Philippoteaux and depicts images from a Confederate infantry attack on Union soldiers called "Picket's Charge" which occurred on July 3, 1863. The experience of the Cyclorama is further enhanced with surround sound effects and dramatic lighting. One could actually see the sparks of cannon fire on the walls. The deep sounds shook the floor beneath my feet and rumbled in my chest. It was quite awe-inspiring. The Visitor's Center also boasts a museum that houses all kinds of artifacts from the Civil War. I was very excited to find a piece of yellowed paper that bears the signature of Abraham Lincoln.

The next stop of the trip was at the Jennie Wade House. Jennie Wade has the distinction of being the only civilian to be killed during the Battle of Gettysburg. The hole made by the fatal errant bullet can still be found in the front door of the house exactly where it was made 151 years before as an unsuspecting 20-year-old Jennie Wade stood at her oven baking bread.

Next on the itinerary was the Eisenhower Farm. This was the dwelling that would be the permenent home of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower in 1961 after they would leave the White House. As the decor of the house remains unchanged with all original furnishings, a jaunt to this farm is like a step into a time capsule.

From the Eisenhower Farm, the buses finally brought us to the hotel for check-in and dinner. As we were eating our pizza, the group was regaled with Civil War stories by a guest speaker, Abraham Lincoln. I must say, I was very excited to see and hear the Gettysburg Address performed so well. The actor did a really terrific job of portraying Honest Abe.

The evening would have one more treat in store for us, a ghost tour! At 9:00pm, everyone met in front of the hotel to be broken up into groups. Each group got to walk with a guide by lantern light. It had been raining during dinner and the streets were damp which added to the spookiness of the proceedings. As we walked, we were entertained with some of the ghostly stories and sightings of Gettysburg. The tour brought us through a haunted museum and into the eerie confines of a dungeon. Of course, we didn't witness anything remotely supernatural or scary and we knew that the walk was more about humbuggery than history, but it was still a fun way to end the evening!

"For thou hast girded me
with strength unto the battle:
thou hast subdued under me those
that rose up against me."

~Psalms 18:39