Get out of town: Gettysburg

Get out of town: Gettysburg

There are few words to describe the haunting stillness the empty fields of Gettysburg evoke almost 150 years after the clash of nearly 157,000 American soldiers.
Drive out of the bustling town, down West Confederate Avenue, and the restaurants, hotels, traffic lights and telephone poles give way to Pennsylvanias rolling countryside. Vast fence-lined fields, punctuated by the occasional farmhouse or silent monument, span the horizon.
Millions visit the national park annually, according to Gettysburgs tourism association, but its easy to find yourself alone, listening to the wind as it cuts through the tall grass.
Its not my first trip to Gettysburg, a town within spitting distance of the Mason-Dixon line. More than the dates, facts and figures of the fighting, I had fallen in love with the story of the battle as a child Gettysburg is the closest thing to a Greek tragedy the country has known.
Fueled by Ron Maxwells film, documentaries like Ken Burns Civil War and a fascination with legends of restless ghosts, I could lecture on the tactics, generals and terrain by early adolescence, to my parents annoyance. So not too many years into my teens, the family packed up the car and drove from New England to the Pennsylvania countryside. 
After years of watching dramatizations on television and imagining the fighting unfold in my head, the reality of the place was, well, anticlimactic.
We did the requisite tourist activities: took a guided tour of the battlefield, went on a nighttime ghost walk and shopped for souvenirs. A few days later, we returned to Massachusetts, and the road trip slowly faded into memory.
About a decade later, no longer infused with the sense of immortality a child innately possesses, I returned to find a completely different experience. Maybe its the ongoing wars, the new veterans coming back from overseas battles, but the romanticism had vanished. More importantly, the need for romanticism had vanished.
The idea of charging up Little Round Top or bravely holding the line against Picketts infamous charge didnt seem so attractive anymore. The fact that men some younger than I am now, some older did just that, weighs heavily on the mind.
Its fitting that the scene of such carnage the three-day battle left behind roughly 51,000 casualties is now a peaceful refuge. Whether the park is home to ghosts, I cant say, but the silent hills and quiet fields host other oddities. The casual visitor is apt to stumble across re-enactors camped out and making breakfast on Seminary Ridge, Confederate soldiers strolling along the paved roads cutting through the fields or a Union military band playing to a crowd of tourists. At night the fireflies dart in and out among the oaks, lighting them up like Christmas trees.
My day touring the battlefield finished, I return to the clamor of tourists and re-enactors frequenting the museums and souvenir shops posing as museums that line the downtown district. Just a stones throw from the killing fields now synonymous with the Civil War in American lore, life goes on as it has since the Pennsylvania boroughs founding in the latter half of the 18th century.
And rather than detract from the solemnity of the battlefield, the hustle and bustle of downtown Gettysburg does just the opposite.