11 years ago today I admired quilts, strolled through a sad and haunting place, and met a fascinating old woman.
I started my day late, hoping to avoid rush hour through Philadelphia, and succeeded for the most part, although it still took me a long time to get past the last of the suburbs and out into the country. I stopped and did laundry in a small town called Gap, and then headed into my second bout of Amish country on this trip, the area around Lancaster (LN-ks-tr, as opposed to LAN-cas-ter, which is in California). I stopped at some quilt shops, but these were the kind of quilt shops that sold finished quilts as opposed to the kind that sell fabric and other supplies for making them. Beautiful, beautiful, handmade and hand-quilted quilts. With some pretty fancy prices, too.
Then I went on to Gettysburg. My first stop was at the visitor center for the National Military Park, where among other things there was a large display case full of all the stuff found by archaeologists on one small plot (IIRC it was just a couple of square feet, but my journal isn’t that specific) that was under the thick of the battle. Quite amazing.
Then I went out and walked around the battlefield a bit, and ate my supper at dusk at a picnic area in the woods on the edge of the Cornfield:
It was kind of eerie. Not sure how to explain it without coming across as sort of woo-woo, but the same thing happened to me at Culloden in Scotland, at the Little Bighorn in Montana, and at other Civil War sites I’d been to in the past as well. Too much history and too much tragedy in too concentrated a dose, I suppose. Either that or I’m just a really susceptible personality. Probably some of each.
Anyway, “it was very beautiful, and very evocative. It’s so easy to see the men in uniform, guns in hand, running desperately across the fields. To hear their voices, and the sounds of cannonfire. I’m very ambivalent about the whole battlefield thing. On the one hand, I am so very anti-war that they make me angry. But how can I be angry with the ghosts of men who were caught up in something so out of control? It’s not possible to blame them as individuals. Not even the generals. But at the same time, it’s wrong. Still, it’s an awe-inspiring, majestic, mystical, magical place. There’s something to be said for the emotion that permeates the very air here. They were trying to do what’s right, and so many of them died for it. That alone deserves respect. Even if there are better ways to resolve things.”
Okay, so I’m hokey and trite and susceptible. Sue me.
Lonely Planet USA recommended a particular guest house in the town of Gettysburg for accommodations, and so after my picnic I went in search of it. Lonely Planet could not have been more right. The building itself had been an orphanage built immediately after the war for children of soldiers killed in battle, and the elderly lady who ran it was a storyteller par excellence. She was old enough to have attended the 75th reunion of the battle as a teenager, and showed me a photo album full of pictures she’d taken of it. Her family had owned the building since 1913, and she’d lived there all her life.
She told me how the orphanage had been founded to house three children whose father had died in battle, his only identification a picture of them clutched in his hand. Very Victorian. Then there was the story about how the orphanage had been closed twenty years later because the matron was abusing the children and shackling them in the basement. I was afraid she was going to give me nightmares (she didn’t), but she was so obviously enjoying having a new audience — and she was so fascinating to listen to — that I didn’t want to stop her. Did you know that the oldest Union soldier lived to be 109? And didn’t die until 1956? And did you know that the oldest Confederate soldier died the year I was born (1959), at 117? I didn’t.
Anyway, that was definitely one of the most memorable places I stayed in on my entire trip, and I am grateful I learned about it. The room was nice, too.