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Published: July 20th 2016
This day didn't go entirely how I planned, which has become a theme already in the first two days of the trip. I spent the morning at Antietam in Maryland and then most of the afternoon at Gettysburg. After a stop at the Hershey Park, I ventured to the home of my friends Amy and Kevin, who have graciously allowed me to stay with them for the evening.
I left my hostel in Luray, Virginia, just after 7:30 this morning. All my previous GPSing had said that Antietam was 2.5 hours away, but when I fired it up in the car, it had decreased to about 1.75 hours. That was fine with me. I got to the battlefield around 9:15 after driving through West Virginia and crossing the Potomac River, seeing lots of beautiful scenery. Antietam DOES accept the America the Beautiful National Parks pass, so no money involved there. The visitor center has a nice orientation film that lasts almost 30 minutes, and that was crucial for me to understand the battlefield, since I'm no expert at Civil War history. They have a couple of rooms in the visitor center that house a few artifacts, but most of what
the site contains is outdoors.
There are LOTS of monuments. You get out the door and see three or four towering over the landscape and think, "I need to see these now." And a couple of them are certainly worth the time. But by the end of the tour, you sort of pass by and see which state posted the monument before deciding whether to spend more time with it or just keep going. It's a driving tour, by the way. There are 11 stops, scattered at various points through the grounds but strung together in an attempt to make a coherent narrative. It's quite well done, I must say. Do watch yourself for ticks when you walk in the grass - I had to pick one off my leg, mercifully before it had sunk its fangs into me. Each stop on the tour has a place for the car to pull off, sometimes with parking spaces outlined, and always with informative displays. Usually there will be several statues or monuments, from lists of casualties to words honoring the dead. Some statues are ornate, others quite simple; some have figures of soldiers atop them. Towards the end, there is
an observation tower that can give panoramic views of the site (the picture at the top of this blog post is from the tower). It's next to the Bloody Lane, a trench where most of the dead ended up at the end of the battle, all of which took place in a single day.
The film said that the battle was a draw, but from mine and Abe Lincoln's perspectives, it looked every bit like a Union victory. It was the single bloodiest day in the war, and the next day, Robert E. Lee took his men back south of the Potomac, ending all hope of British and French recognition of the Confederacy. And then Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Big wins for the Union.
The very last stop is the Antietam cemetery in Sharpsburg, Maryland. It was more haunting than I had imagine - hundreds of graves, all the same size and shape, around a massive statue of a soldier at the center of the cemetery. The biggest disappointment was that the Burnside Bridge was closed for repairs - after viewing the video, it was the place I was most looking forward to going. No warnings or
anything. You get to the stop for the bridge and can see right before you park that it's closed and men are working with heavy machinery around it. Bummer. But hooray for preservation.
My next stop was Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania. Easy to get to. The price, however, is anything but easy. I knew I wanted to see the Eisenhower Farm, which you can only get to by way of Gettysburg - the ticket office is there, and the shuttle bus leaves from there, too. The cost is $7.50, and when I asked the ticket lady only for the Eisenhower ticket, I think she was rather surprised. You can get a ticket to see the Gettysburg museum + film + cyclorama, and that will be $12.50 But if you want to see the battlefield, you can only do that with a tour, which is $30 apiece. Yeah, no. And no passes accepted, either. Ridiculous.
My tour of the Eisenhower Farm house was great. It turned out to be just me, a retired couple, and their grandson, who appeared to be about 11. Our guide was energetic and informational, showing us the barn, the guest house, and then taking us
into the main house, where we found all kinds of stuff. A pair of park rangers were also there to orient us inside the house and answer any other questions. I'll go ahead and say there was a ton of pink there. Mamie loved pink so much, they even named a shade "Mamie pink," which can see throughout the house - most especially the bathroom and the bedroom. It's self-guided inside the house (mostly), and the rooms are all roped off, so you can't accidentally break anything. While we were in the house, the rain really started coming down, so I did the tour from start to finish, and the finish to start, and then went back to the end. Meanwhile, my three tour-mates had remained in the final room, Ike's office, just biding their time. After maybe 20 minutes, it slacked off and I made a dash for the museum. Not too bad - they have a few exhibits, a short film, and the obligatory gift shop.
Back at Gettysburg, I decided I needed to move on without spending too much money on a soggy tour. So I drove to Hershey for one of their town trolley tours.
It was fantastic, though naturally corny. Our tour guide Liz and her partner, the conductor-in-training "Wilbur," kept us interested in the sights around town. "Wilbur" would disappear at various stops and come back dressed as another character from the history of the town, usually holding a container of some Hershey chocolate products. And then they sang at various points, too! We had lyric sheets on each seat. Our trolley was packed, which made the experience more entertaining, I think. After we were finished, I was walking back to my car and ran into our two guides at the back of the trolley. Both had remarked my "Billy Elliot" shirt, so we talked a little about the show and musical theater in general. They were great. Hershey Park itself looks to be a lot of fun - an amusement park is attached to the big store and factory. I didn't do the park or the factory, but I did venture into the store, where they were giving away coffee-flavored Hershey kisses called cafe moka. It was quite good. But the prices on the candy and other Hershey swag were akin to those at Gettysburg. I passed.
My final stop of
the day is Elizabethtown, PA, home to Amy and Kevin Shorner-Johnson. They were kind enough to offer me a bed and some food, as well as great conversation, so how could I turn that down? Tomorrow is a busy day, but not a heavy travel day, for which I am grateful.
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