Even though we have traveled up and down the East Coast more times than I can remember, we have never taken time to stop in Pennsylvania to experience two of their most historic and popular sites. First along our route, we realized that, with a short detour, we would be at Gettysburg National Military Park.
Beginning our tour at the Museum and Visitor Center, we started with a film narrated by Morgan Freeman, followed by the Gettysburg Cyclorama. This is an 1884 painting of Pickett’s Charge by Paul Philippoteaux. At 359 by 27 feet (originally 377 by 42 feet), the huge painting puts the viewers in the middle of the battle with sound and light effects. Audio-video presentations and photographs throughout the extensive museum extend this experience.
Having studied the Civil War during the 8th or 9th grade, we had long ago forgotten many of the details of the battle. A couple of the things we did remember was the fact that this battle had the greatest number of casualties (with around 51,000 killed and wounded) and it was a turning point in the War.
Opting for the self-guided auto tour, we took off map in hand. With over 1300 memorials and informational plaques along the roadway and walkways, we became very knowledgeable about the various battles that took place on this land July 1-3, 1863. The nearby Soldiers’ National Cemetery is the site of Lincoln’s renowned Gettysburg Address. Certainly this was Lincoln’s most famous speech. The two minute oration commemorated the loss of life at the Battle of Gettysburg, but can apply to any battle place where men and women have fought for the freedoms we enjoy in this country. With the approach of the sesquicentennial, history buffs may want to explore the special reenactment and numerous special events taking place in the Park in the coming year.
Moving next to Lancaster County, we wanted to learn something about the Amish community this area is known for. Driving through the heavy traffic and densely commercial regions of Lancaster, it was hard to imagine that just a few miles away there are beautiful rolling hills and picturesque farmhouses and windmills. With a population of 500,000 in this area, roughly 30,000 are Amish. Having come to this area over 300 years ago to obtain religious freedom, the Amish continue to shun the luxuries of our modern world, including the use of automobiles and electricity. They follow a deeply religious, family-oriented lifestyle of discipline and humility. Travel by horse and buggy along with their plain dress are the most outwardly visible differences.
We decided on in a combination tour of an Amish house and the countryside. The home we visited was built in 1805 and has been used since 1955 as a teaching venue for visitors curious about the Amish believes and lifestyle choices. The knowledgeable guide provided a wealth of information about the Amish history, beliefs and culture. This was followed by a bus tour of the countryside including a stop at an Amish bakery and farmhouse with an equally informative guide/driver. We ended the day with a much better understanding of the Amish community.
A quote from the Small Farmer’s Journal, an Amish publication, offers a guideline for persons that are enamored with the lives of the Amish but not willing to become Amish, “If you admire our faith, strengthen yours. If you admire our sense of commitment, deepen yours. If you admire our community spirit, build your own. If you admire the simple life, cut back. If you admire deep character and enduring values, live them yourself.”
While we are not inclined to follow the Amish believes or lifestyle, I think a lot of people yearn for the simpler life that is represented by their community. Perhaps the quote above provides some food for thought.