The parking lot at the Gettysburg National Military Park is completely full when I arrive. I turn down the local radio station oddly enough it's blasting Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" and I enter the 6,000 acre complex that bore witness to the bloodiest battle of the Civil War (July 1-3, 1863). Up to 51,000 Americans from the Union and Confederate armies lost their lives in the battle and the site was almost instantly memorialized by Abraham Lincoln with the infamous Gettysburg Address in November 1863.
This sense of making Gettysburg into the epitome of historical markers lives on today in a strange stew of kitchy nostalgia and honest reverence. A host of parents, children, senior citizens in scooters and sullen teenagers wander into the brand new Visitors Center "Refreshment Saloon" to dine on inspiringly good burgers (according to the brochure) and to absorb the copious air-conditioning.
Clearly, I made a mistake thinking I could just pop into Gettysburg, snap a few pictures, score some souvenirs and pay my respects. Gettysburg is a day unto itself - complete with a 30-minute feature film entitled, "A New Birth of Freedom," narrated by none other than Morgan Freeman and costing $8. After lunch and a movie, you have several options for exploring the battlefield, by car, bus or on foot - all of which I missed because they take about 2 1/2 hours.
With people to see and parties to attend down in Maryland, I hastily left Gettysburg, but not before cruising the aforementioned gift shop. An unassuming and kinda cute Army officer on leave from nearby Aberdeen Proving Grounds invited me to lunch after making casual conversation in the poster aisle, but I declined and focused on the magnets instead.
For myself, I scored another bumper sticker, expertly placed to conceal the many nicks on my car that bad parallel parking has wrought. For the host and hostess with the mostest who kindly put me up, I bought a deck of Civil War Battlefield playing cards. While we didn't play poker at last night's gathering, I know whenever they do, I hope they'll think of me and the day I almost went to Gettsyburg.