Back in 2014, Dream Theater (my favorite band), was playing outside Pittsburgh. My wife, Wendi, thought it would be nice to get me tickets so we could see the show (she is not a fan of the band, though she does appreciate their musicianship). While in Pennsylvania, we decided to visit Wendi’s Uncle Jay and Aunt Kim in Greencastle first, then make our way back to Pittsburgh for the show a few days later.
Wendi and I enjoyed visiting family and Civil War sites, namely Gettysburg. I have to admit, even though I studied the Civil War in college and have read about it, I have never fully grasped it. Nothing I learn about the war ever sticks. It seems to flow in one ear and out the other. I understood Gettysburg to be an important place, but I never fully comprehended why. I didn’t even know what state it was in. I was surprised to learn it was so close to Jay and Kim’s place — around 35 miles away.
Before visiting the Gettysburg National Military Park and the Gettysburg National Cemetery, we walked around the downtown area and went into the David Wills House. This is where President Abraham Lincoln stayed the night before he delivered a “few appropriate remarks” to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
Some say Lincoln wrote most of what has become known as the Gettysburg Address on the train ride to the south-central Pennsylvania town and put the finishing touches on while staying at the attorney’s house. (See a New York Times piece about the house here.)
Following the visit to the David Wills House, Wendi and I made our way to the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitors Center. It was tough looking at the shackles used on the slaves, as well as the balls and chains. I remember thinking, “This is how we treat our fellow humans?” I realize a lot worse was done to African-Americans, but to see the cold, hard steel shackles and the balls-and-chains was a stark reminder of how those who were different were treated.
After visiting the museum, we stopped in for lunch at the Dobbin House Tavern. It was built in 1776 by the Rev. Alexander Dobbin. I believe it later served as a schoolhouse. It is billed as Gettysburg’s oldest and most famous home.
We ate in the cellar. It was dark. Wendi was fascinated to see a little room where slaves were hidden as one of the stops of the Underground Railroad. While I don’t remember what we ate back on March 31, 2014, we both enjoyed our meals. It was just a wonderful setting. It brought us back in time.
After lunch, we drove around the area to see some other sites, like Little Round Top, a spot Brig. Gen. G.K. Warren (not sure if there is any relation) believed needed to be defended. If the Confederate Army were to take the ground, then it would be tough on the Union Army.
Wendi and I appreciated getting to know a little bit more about our nation’s history, even this “great Civil War.” On Friday, we plan to visit Sharpsburg, Md., the site of the Antietam National Battlefield. And, again, we are going to visit Jay and Kim. We plan to make the 45-minute trip south of Greencastle to learn more about the Civil War. Right now, we are going on a tour with Mark Brugh. He and his wife, Julia, operate Sharpsburg Civil War Ghost Tours (check out their website here). I reached out to Mark at the last-minute, only because this was a last-minute decision to visit Jay and Kim, and he was able to accommodate us on a tour Friday morning.
I spoke with Mark for a while on the phone Wednesday night, and it sounds like a fascinating tour. He said he is a historian first and a cultural anthropologist second. In studying Sharpsburg’s history for the past 30 years, he has picked up some stories dealing with ghosts and other tales. He presents the stories, and he leaves it up to the tourists to decide whether they are real or not. He is also a storyteller.
Wendi and I are really looking forward to this trip, and check back on the blog later to see how the ghost tour went. We can’t wait!