I grew up not too far from Gettysburg, Pa. As kids, my friends and I didn’t really appreciate the events that took place there nearly 150 years ago. We knew there was a big Civil War battle there and a lot of people died. We knew it was the place Abraham Lincoln gave a big speech. We knew that because of the bloody battle the North eventually won the Civil War.
We also knew there were lots of tourists and that our parents probably wouldn’t take us to the long-gone amusement park in town during the first weekend in July because that’s when the annual reenactment takes place.
But beyond that, the battlefield was cool to us really just because you got to see a lot of cannons and cannon balls, climb up 100+ steps into a tower and climb all over Devil’s Den. Hey, we were kids.
As an adult, the significance of this hallowed ground takes on far greater significance and is more awe-inspiring. I live only a little more than an hour away from Gettysburg now but don’t get there as often as I’d like. Or should. I convince myself there’s always time, that the battlefield isn’t going anywhere, right?
I recently spent a day in Gettysburg to shoot. It was long overdue. I had planned to stay mostly in town and maybe head to the battlefield before leaving. But the sky looked far too interesting and so I jumped in the car and headed for the sprawling landscapes first thing that morning. And I’m glad I did. Because not only did I get what I think are some cool shots, but I appreciated the battlefield in a whole different way. And those who visit it.
I liked seeing the tourists who got off the buses, how in awe they were at being at the top of Little Round Top. They talked about so-and-so who came over this or that ridge. They were knowledgeable, and extremely interested. Some saw my camera and asked me about it. Some asked me to take their pictures with their point-and-shoot cameras, which I happily did. Still others asked me for advice on their own cameras. I gave a guy a crash course in using his on manual rather than automatic mode and he walked away muttering, “Holy (beep)!” Hope he got some great shots!
And how’s this for cool? I had no idea that volunteers come out to take care of specific territory on the battlefield. In retrospect it seems logical – there has to be upkeep of some sort, right? I imagine it’s quite the feat to take care of 6,000 acres of hallowed ground. But I never once thought that people came out and raked leaves. Well, this man and his wife did. They told me proudly this was “their” monument, that they were volunteers who cleared the area around it at least twice a year. They worked hard and took it very seriously. I thanked them for their time and moseyed on.
I ended up staying most of the day around the battlefield and know I didn’t see nearly enough. Considering how much I enjoyed it and it’s affect on me, I guess I have no more excuses for waiting so long to go back.
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