Wednesday, 19 October 2011

On the Road: 'Galumphing at Gettysburg'

Today, while we bump along the road in a public bus from the beaches of Essaouira to the teaming humanity of Marrakesh, my father will entertain you with his memories of the Gettysburg adventure and its deep tradition.

            Our family was on an “American History” tour of the east coast for young Ariel’s educational benefit.  The route included Jamestown, Yorktown, Williamsburg and Washington D.C.  Heading east from Cleveland, Ohio, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a logical first stop.  This rural hamlet is the carefully preserved site of the largest battle of our Civil War, (1860-1865), a tranquil picturesque slaughterhouse.
            It wasn’t my first trip.  We were somewhat re-enacting a visit my family made some twenty years earlier when I was a boy, so there were rituals to perform.

PLAQUE PERUSAL:  You must read all historic plaques and memorials to glean any morsel of interest from the multitude of stupefying minutia contained – and there are hundreds of them.  Example;  “On this spot Colonel Jubilation T. Cornpone’s Dog Patch Brigade arrived late, slept through the battle and heroically led the retreat.”

MUSEUM MARCHES:  There’s a lot to learn and a couple million ways to teach you about it.  Dioramas, artifacts, timelines, diagrams, (of battle days 1-4 broken down in six hour increments), movie clips and full size recreations – all there in Red, White, Blue and Grey.  So exhaustive is the educational onslaught that my wife had only one pressing question upon completion.  “So, who won?”

SOUVENIR SEARCH:  You’re going to buy something, so you might as well choose sides.  Tragically you can tell which area of the country visitors come from, (and the residual political scars retained), by which color infantry hats their children covet.  F.Y.I. to foreigners – blue’s a winner.

RAMPART ROMP:  What’s more fun than climbing around the boulders of “The Devil’s Den” taking cute family photos in the exact location that grainy battlefield tintypes recorded piles of dead snipers?  Or, charging full speed across that vast killing field and arriving sweaty and panting at the actual high water mark of the Confederacy?  Now imagine doing it with 80 lbs. of backpack, woolen uniform, and heavy musket through a steady murderous hail of mini balls and grape shot.

            Of course on such a family excursion all cannot be sweetness and light.  Besides the usual generic lunch menu disagreements and backseat travel fatigue there were site-specific highs and lows.
 The bitter disappointment of searching all day, (with multiple entrance fees), for that lovingly remembered 1/16th scale, three dimensional, hand painted, full battle field diorama with over ten thousand soldiers, horses, electrically animated cannons, and field hospitals complete with piles of amputated plastic limbs.
The quiet experience of crouching down with my daughter behind the low stone wall at “The Bloody Angle” in the shadow of a monument to Major Webb’s Pennsylvania Volunteers, (not necessarily a relation- but close enough), and listening for the ghostly footsteps of General Pickett’s rebels marching to their doom!   Of course, Ariel got scared and cried - because I always manage to overdo the spooky stuff.  But at that time and place, I felt her reaction was profoundly appropriate.

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