By Karen Hendricks
Several of our Off the Merry-Go-Round writers live in Gettysburg, PA—myself included. Summertime, to us, means tourist season… although having worked with numerous Gettysburg events and festivals in the past, those in the tourism industry prefer we call our guests “visitors” and not “tourists.” Sounds nicer, I agree. We are thankful indeed for the many visitors who flock to our south-central Pennsylvania town—approximately three million annually. This year, our charming Civil War-era town is humming with excitement as we approach the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, and tourism officials predict our annual visitors may number closer to four million.
Sesquicentennial events are spread out through the entire year, but certainly the bulk of the commemorations are planned for the end of June into July. As a freelance writer in Gettysburg, I’ve written a number of articles about the 150th anniversary—so many in fact, that during the height of my research, I was dreaming about the Civil War on a regular basis!
Too often, I think we overlook events happening “in our own backyard,” so I am making a point to put several 150th events on my family’s calendar. If you live in the central PA or MD area also, or if you’re headed to Gettysburg on summer vacation, I hope the following “Insider’s Guide to Family-Friendly Events in Gettysburg” is helpful. Welcome and enjoy!
Family-Friendly Events in Gettysburg, Summer 2013:
Ok, it’s summer and the kids think that since school is out, learning stops. Here is a way to sneak a history lesson into summertime… because after all, studies have shown that summertime is the greatest period of growth, both physically and mentally, for children.
So Gettysburg’s history in a nutshell goes like this: One hundred and fifty years ago, on July 1-3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg claimed 51,000 casualties. The bloodiest battle of the entire Civil War, the name “Gettysburg” became forever etched in history as the turning point in the war, as well as a pivotal point in America’s history. The South (Confederates) never fully recovered from their losses at Gettysburg, and the North’s (Union’s) victory in the Civil War preserved the United States as our country. (Feel free to explain this to your children in laymen’s terms, depending on their ages! 🙂
At the heart of Gettysburg’s commemoration, is a period of ten days, June 28-July 7, 2013. Within this timeframe, Gettysburg will host two major battle reenactments, official Gettysburg National Military Park commemorative events across the 6,000-acre battlefield, and a full slate of events staged by businesses in Gettysburg’s tourism industry.
Rather than giving you a rundown of the highlight events, which will undoubtedly be crowded and/or difficult to access, I’m going to list a few family-friendly events likely to be less crowded. Since they are all programs organized by the National Park Service, they are all free:
July 1-4 NPS Family Activity Tent:
The front lawn of the Gettysburg National Military Park’s Museum and Visitor Center* will host a special family and children’s tent full of activities, programs and hands-on opportunities, 9 am-5 pm daily. Stations will include:
- A living history stage where a new Gettysburg “personality” will be revealed every hour
- Infantry, cavalry and artillery drilling stations
- Soldier pastimes circle
- Dress-up photo booth
- “Ask a Ranger” desk
July 1-4 Battle Overview:
For a summary of the Battle of Gettysburg, attend this brief (30 minute) overview program led by park rangers in the Ford Education Center, Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.* Programs run every hour on the hour, from 9 am-5pm. This program serves as a wonderful orientation to begin your visit to Gettysburg.
July 1-4 Civil War Soldier Program:
What was life like, for Union and Confederate soldiers at Gettysburg? Attend this hour-long program to find out. You may even have the chance to try on a soldier’s uniform for size! This program is to be held at 10 am, 12 noon, 2 and 4 pm, at Ranger Site #1, behind the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.*
The NPS is presenting “Key Moment” programs, explaining events that happened during the Battle of Gettysburg, exactly 150 years ago. To travel to the sites, you can park at the National Cemetery North and South lots* and use special NPS shuttle buses, which stop at Devil’s Den, Little Round Top and other sites, every 15-20 minutes:
- July 2 Key Moments at Little Round Top:
Rangers will explain what happened at Little Round Top, the scene of heavy fighting on the afternoon of July 2, 1863. Programs will be presented every hour, on the hour, from 9 am-12 pm and 2-5pm.
- July 2 Key Moments at Devil’s Den:
A desperate struggle ensued between the Confederates of Longstreet’s Corps and the Union 3rd Corps on July 2, 1863. Rangers will explain the series of events during presentations every hour, on the hour, from 10am-12pm and 2-5pm. Devil’s Den, with its rock formations, is a fascinating stop for children of all ages, but to fully explore and climb on the rocks, sneakers should be worn.
Every Thursday through August 15: Hike with Ike:
Gettysburg’s history isn’t limited to the Civil War—the town was also home to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Every Thursday at 7:15 pm, take a free, guided walking tour through downtown Gettysburg that explores President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s life in Gettysburg. Meet the National Park Ranger at the Gettysburg College gates, at the corner of North Washington and Water Streets.
*The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center –and- the National Cemetery North and South lots are both located off Baltimore Street (PA Route 97) just south of Gettysburg. If you follow the brown NPS signs approaching Gettysburg from any direction, they will direct you to Baltimore Street.
For additional events and more information, check out the Gettysburg National Military Park website.