Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Eve of the 150th

Times are busy here in Gettysburg!  On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the battle, the National Park Service is in full swing as it enthusiastically prepares for the onslaught of visitors throughout the next weekend.  Because I am so busy preparing for programs, I shall keep my commentary short and sweet as I write this blog entry.  Even so, I could not help but to share a few words and images from all this preparatory excitement.  On Sunday June 30 at 7:30 p.m. at General Meade's Headquarters, the park is hosting a ceremonial opening to the anniversary with special performances by the West Point Band and country musician Trace Adkins.  This will be followed by a keynote address from historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  A special "Voices of Battle" program will take place on the same stage (pictured above), followed by a special luminaries tribute in the Soldiers' National Cemetery.  Having seen some of the rehearsal this evening, the upcoming program looks visually stunning.  Tech crews were running circles around the stage complex performing some of their final equipment checks before the big show.  Cemetery Ridge was bustling with the activity of an ant farm and looked like the beginnings of a History Woodstock.  Just wait until you see the final product!

Accordingly, the visitor center too was bustling with activity today.  Lines to the ticket booth and information desk were as long as I have ever witnessed.  Many of these visitors are here for the long haul, remaining in the area until after the anniversary and into the next weekend.  There are many repeat customers out there, but also new visitors who possess a beginner's fascination during this unique time in the park's history.

Among the many special events in and around the visitor center is the Sacred Trust lecture series hosted by the park's non-profit partner, the Gettysburg Foundation.  Included in those speakers today was well-known Civil War author Jeffry Wert, whose many fine pieces of scholarship are displayed on the table.  This unique lecture series is free (just like the park ranger programs) and takes place this weekend and the following weekend.  Come on by, listen to an engaging lecture, purchase a book, and help out your park.  Other notables attending include historians James McPherson, Peter Carmichael, Harold Holzer, filmmaker Ron Maxwell, and many more.  Here, Jeff signs a copy of his latest book for me.

This evening, I conducted one of the new park tours entitled "Sunset on Cemetery Ridge."  To my astonishment, some 150 people showed up even amidst all the construction of stages, platforms, and guide stations.  This scene is certainly a favorable harbinger for the forthcoming week as far as visitor attendance goes.  Let's just hope the weather cooperates.  This is only the beginning.

The large presence of the press is also an overwhelming one.  News crews from around the state and nation have their vans and large satellite trucks parked in various locations around the Soldiers' National Cemetery.  Reporters from foreign countries are on the scene.  C-SPAN will be recording many of the proceedings this weekend, so check them out if you are unable to attend in person.  PCN also stopped by and surprisingly filmed my tour discussing the aftermath of the battle.  As always, that network will be airing many of the ranger tours over the coming week.  Whether you will be hiking with the rangers in person or watching on television, you won't be disappointed.  I and all of my colleagues are extremely enthused by the unique opportunities and challenges this sesquicentennial bring.

Now, all we have to do is wait.

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