Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Another year, another road trip.  Maybe you're reading this because "Intercourse" is in the title, but I'll get to that later.   Chicago to Niagara Falls to New York to Newport to Pennsylvania--2500 miles in all in 10 days, but we had wonderful adventures.


One of the greatest natural wonders in North America is, of course, Niagara Falls.  You stand and gape at the thunderous waters and then think, "what do I do now?" A lot of people have that thought, and some ask, "where can I get a barrel?"  Many people went over the falls in a barrel and by other means, and a few survived. 

In 1960, one kid, 7 year old Roger Woodward, fell out of a boat and was swept over the falls wearing a life jacket but no barrel.  I suppose the question should be, why would his family be boating there?  The good news is that he was rescued.

There are a lot of daredevils out there, and the authorities on both the U.S. and Canadian sides are cracking down.  If you get caught (and survive, of course) there is a hefty fine. 

The first person to go over the falls in a barrel was Annie Edson Taylor, a 63 year old grandmother who, in 1901, outfitted a barrel with pillows, a mattress and an anvil (for ballast).  She survived the plunge with a few cuts and bruises, hoping to cash in.  She posed for photos and gave a few speeches, but fame and fortune eluded her.  Between 1901 and 1990, fifteen people went over in barrels and ten survived.

People also went over the falls in other, creative ways.  The first person to jump was Sam Patch in 1829.  He survived, but died shortly thereafter jumping off a different falls.  The Great Blondin, a French tightrope walker walked over the falls several times in 1859, once while carrying his manager on his back.   In recent years, one brave dude, Jesse Sharp went over in a kayak.  They never found the body.  Another, Robert Overacker went over on a jet ski.  At least they found his body.

Then there was Capt. Matthew Webb who won fame as the first person to swim the English Channel--in 1875.  Eight years later, with a $2000 reward at stake, he attempted (unsuccessfully) to swim through the whirlpool rapids below the falls.  He didn't even have to go over the 166 foot plunge.  No matter, it's still dangerous.  No word if the reward was paid to his estate. 

Can you imagine the pioneer fur traders and explorers canoeing down the Niagara River and then encountering the falls!   Oh @#$%!

Two cities called Niagara Falls sprang up on both sides of the border.  Niagara Falls, Ontario is a tourist town with quite a few high rise hotels within sight of the falls.  You can't see the falls as well on the less opulent American side.  We stayed at the Hilton in Canada--our room was on the 45th floor with a view of the falls as well as a large casino. 

We took the boat ride to the falls.  The Maid of the Mist is the more famous boat, but it launches from the American side.  I had purchased tickets for it on the Internet.  Then we discovered that it is very time consuming to cross the border--it can take an hour each time.  So we blew off the 34 bucks and took the Canadian boat.   If you don't want to get wet, don't go.  They give you a clear plastic slicker to wear over your clothes. 

The Canadian side also has a tunnel under the falls which we took an elevator down to see. It has several viewing points where you can't see much except for pouring water.  If you want to train for waterboarding, you can stand under it like I did.

After a couple days we drove up North on Queen Elizabeth Highway to Niagara on the Lake, a touristy Canadian town on the shores of Lake Ontario.  This area is known for its many vineyards and wineries.  The day we visited was the day of the annual Peach Festival.  Queen Street, the main drag was blocked off for the street musicians and booths selling everything relating to peaches, including wine.  Many offered wine tastings and street food.  Since I had to drive back to our hotel, I had to pass on the wine.  A young man on a unicycle was juggling flaming torches.  The crowd gave him a wide berth.

We then drove South on the QE Highway to Fort Erie where they were staging the annual re-enactment of the Siege of Fort Erie which took place in 1814.  This is a major extravaganza each year.  We saw a sea of white pup tents with campfires outside and the uniformed soldiers carrying flintlock rifles. On the street outside the campground the soldiers' cars lined both sides for a mile or more.  Most Americans don't realize that the U.S. invaded Canada twice during the War of 1812 and were driven back.  They learn their history from the John Candy movie, Canadian Bacon.   This battle was the bloodiest on Canadian soil.  After that war, Fort Erie flourished and eventually, prior to the Civil War,  became an important terminus of Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad--The "Tubway", as actor Robert Guillaume called it. 


Rochester, NY is strongly influenced by its largest employer, the Eastman Kodak Company.  We visited the George Eastman mansion and museum.  Eastman (1854-1932), an innovator who founded the company, made millions by building a handheld camera that the masses could afford.  He developed the snapshot.  Until that time, people would have to sit motionless for long periods of time
posing for the photographer.  In old photos, people rarely smiled for the camera--it was an ordeal!  The museum houses a terrific collection of 19th Century cameras. 

Eastman was an astute businessman who figured out that the real money was in roll film, chemicals and paper, not cameras.  He even made film that would fit his competitors' cameras, thus making them his de facto partners.  Cameras would last a long time, but people went through rolls of film very quickly.  He sold the cameras cheap to create a bigger market for the film.

Eastman, who never married, was devoted to his mother.  He went into a fit of depression when she died in 1908.  Eastman was a generous philanthropist who gave $100 million to educational institutions including the University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, M.I.T., and the historically black colleges, Hampton Institute and Tuskegee Institute.  In later years he suffered from a degenerative spinal disease, and he ultimately killed himself, leaving a note reading, "My work is done, why wait?"

Kodak was a made up name and didn't mean anything.  Eastman liked the letter "K", a "strong, incisive sort of letter."  He and his mother toyed with an anagram set and settled on "kodak", a truly original word.  It was short, easy to pronounce, and was not associated with anything else. 


To drive across New York State you generally have to follow the path of the Erie Canal, as we did,  from Buffalo to Rochester to Syracuse.  The Erie Canal was one of the greatest engineering feats ever completed, and it's almost 200 years old.  They didn't have steam shovels in those days.  These guys dug it by hand.  The original canal was 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep and stretches 363 miles across New York state from Albany to Buffalo where it enters Lake Erie, 570 higher than the Hudson River in Albany.  It crosses mountain ranges with 83 locks. 

Oh, the Er-i-e was risin'
and gin was a-gettin' low
and I scarcely think we'll get a drink till we get to Buffalo.

During the construction, skeptics attacked the project as another boondoggle by the Clinton Administration.  Supporters called Governor DeWitt Clinton a visionary.  Indeed, the project created thousands of jobs between 1817 and 1825 when it was completed.  Many of the workers were European immigrants.  The canal made New York City the nation's most busiest port and most populous city.  People heading West could make the trip to Buffalo in 5 days in relative comfort.  It used to take 2 weeks by stagecoach.  The cost of shipping freight from the West dropped by 90%. 

It also brought many eccentrics--19th Century hippies, if you will--to the canal corridor.  Utopian communities, many founded by European immigrants, sprang up, and unconventional (for that time) religious movements prospered, like Joseph Smith's Mormons.  Crazy new ideas like abolitionism, women's suffrage and free love  were promoted--with a lasting impact on the nation's development.


We turned South toward Binghamton where we stayed in a nice Doubletree Inn.  The City of Binghamton has seen better days, but it has some gems worth visiting.  For example, we had dinner at Cortese's, a wonderful Italian restaurant with a warm neighborhood feel and good and plentiful food.  Binghamton used to be an IBM town where the computer giant operated a large manufacturing facility for many years. 

The other thing about Binghamton which caught our attention is its rich baseball history.  For many years, the Binghamton Triplets (named after the cities of Binghamton, Johnson City and Endicott in close proximity) was the minor league farm team for the New York Yankees in the glory years of the 1950's and '60's. Future stars like Whitey Ford, Thurman Munson, Joe Pepitone, Marvelous Marv Throneberry and Bert Campenaris played baseball there on their way up.   One interesting factoid:  the all time home run record by a Binghamton player was set by--wait for this--Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, the long time Chisox announcer.   The Hawk hit 38 homers in 1962, with 138 RBI's.  His lesser known teammate that season was future Hall of Fame Manager Tony LaRussa.

Every year the Yankees would play one exhibition game in Binghamton.  Over the years, the locals got to see the greats like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle show off their talents in their little stadium.  Today, the Binghamton Mets are a farm team for the New York Mets. 


The Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton. PA was another unexpected pleasant surprise for us.  It was established in 1986, and is run by the National Park Service.  This is a mecca for railroad buffs.  The park displays a collection of steam locomotives, freight and passenger cars assembled 50 years ago as a hobby by F. Nelson Blount, a New England seafood processor.   In 1984, years after Blount's death, the Steamtown Foundation brought the collection to Scranton, the site of the largely abandoned Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad yard.  Many railroads went broke in the mid-20th Century, and the Lackawanna was one of them.

The park features a 90 foot turntable and a roundhouse, built in 1902.  The museum traces the history of railroads back to the early 1800's when railroads were constructed as an efficient way to move passengers and freight.  After the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, the nation went on a canal building binge,  but the age of canals was relatively short lived.  By the 1850's, it was apparent that railroads could transport goods and passengers much more efficiently and at lower cost. 

The beginning of the end for coal powered steam locomotives came in 1925 with the introduction of the diesel locomotive.  The diesel burned fuel cleanly and with less labor--they didn't need a guy shoveling coal.   Demand for anthracite coal declined rapidly when homeowners and businesses switched to gas or oil which was easier and cleaner to store. 

The handwriting was on the wall.  Railroads in the Eastern states were on a one way trip to bankruptcy because their most profitable business had been hauling coal.  The D L & W merged with the Erie Railroad in the 1960's and much of the Scranton facility was shut down.  It was closed for good by Conrail in 1980. 


We spent a cool August afternoon with our friends at the famous Jones Beach on the South shore of Long Island.  The beach was named after Maj. Thomas Jones, an Englishman with a checkered history who came there in 1692.   Up to that point, Jones made a living as a privateer, or a pirate, depending on which side you were on.  The British were fine with privateers as long as they didn't raid British shipping.  Once Jones did so, the British Navy captured his ship and scuttled it in the West Indies. 

Jones apparently redeemed himself when he married the daughter of an influential Englishman who gifted her the acreage around Jones Beach.  His wife's name was Freelove Townsend, and with an unusual name like that, any husband might be skeptical.  But Tom Jones declared, "It's Not Unusual", and they settled down and built the first brick house on Long Island.  In later years Jones became the Sheriff of Queens County. 

Today, Jones Beach is distinguished by a landmark 200 foot brick and stone water tower and a 2 mile boardwalk.  For us, the weather was too cold to swim

We spent the night in Garden City, L.I. with the intention of driving to the Eastern end--Orient Point where we would catch the Cross Sound Ferry to New London, CT.  Overnight it rained, and rained, and rained--13 inches worth.  Many of the roads were flooded and closed, including the Long Island Expressway.  It looked like Long Island might float up to Connecticut.  I should have been suspicious when I saw a guy building an ark in his yard. 

Fortunately for us, later that morning, the road finally opened, and we drove the 80 miles or so to Orient Point and caught the ferry.  It was not crowded.


Newport is famous for the mansions of the New York society folks who built their summer "cottages" there.  They called themselves, "the 400".  Their houses are over the top, and the amazing thing is that the owners stayed in them for only 6-10 weeks each year.  Most also had houses in New York, Florida and elsewhere and were constantly traveling between them.  Their servants traveled with them. 

During the summer season, their calendars were filled with dinner parties and formal balls virtually every night.  Each homeowner was expected to put on at least 6 lavish dinner parties (for 60 people) and 2 balls (for 600 people) each summer.  We're talking a half million for entertainment expense each summer in 1902 dollars. 

The Newport experience was largely created by Ward McAllister (1827-1895), who made his fortune as an attorney in California during the Gold Rush.   McAllister moved back to New York and ingratiated himself to Mrs. Caroline Astor (THE Mrs. Astor)(1830-1908) and made himself the arbiter of who belonged and who didn't.  He coined the term, "The Four Hundred" which was popularly believed to be the capacity of Mrs. Astor's ballroom.  He wrote stuff like, "If Chicago society hostesses wanted to be taken seriously, they should hire French chefs and 'not frappe their wine too much'" (huh?)   The Astors spent their summers at the 16,000 square foot Beechwood on Bellevue Avenue in Newport.  Beechwood is not on today's Newport tour--it was purchased in 2010 by my old high school classmate Larry Ellison for $10.5 million (or was it billion?), and he plans to use it as an art museum. 

The thinking went:  If THE Mrs. Astor summers in Newport, the Vanderbilts should do so also.  And if the Vanderbilts go there, the herd mentality applies--the other 390 or so will have to build houses there too. 

Today, at least 11 major mansions are open to the public, almost all on Bellevue Avenue.  Back in the 1950's there was a movement to level them all and built parking lots, but the Newport Preservation Society was organized to preserve them.  Many people thought the ostentatious display of wealth was vulgar and best forgotten.  We purchased tickets to visit our choice of 5 houses.  We hit 4 before time ran out.  Each one takes an hour or more to properly visit. 


The guy who started all this was Cornelius Vanderbilt, a ship captain.  They called him Commodore Vanderbilt.  His first business was operating the Staten Island ferry from Manhattan.  He hit it big by ferrying people out of town during a cholera epidemic.  Then in the 1860's he got into land transportation--railroads.  He created the New York Central Railroad which became the family business.  A prolific gentleman, he had 13 kids, so there are a lot of Vanderbilts out there.

Both the Breakers and Marble House were built by Vanderbilts.   Marble House was first.  William (Willie) Vanderbilt had the house built for his wife Alva for her 39th birthday.  The architect was Richard Morris Hunt and modeled after the Petit Trianon of Versailles.  Mrs. Vanderbilt was the doyenne of polite society and controversial.  She was the trendsetter, the first socialite to divorce her husband.  After she divorced Willie, it was OK for everyone else to obtain a divorce. 

She then married a man with the audacious name of Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont who became a Congressman.  That's Belmont, as in the racetrack, the Triple Crown race, or even as Dion and the Belmonts.   Belmont's father, financier August Belmont was a Jewish guy from Hesse in Germany who made big money as an associate of the banking Rothschilds.   The Belmonts were happy together until Oliver died in 1906.  After that Alva became a cause fighter.  She held large conferences for women's rights and suffrage on the spacious lawn of Marble House.  Belmont had his own "cottage" down the street called Belcourt which is currently under renovation. 

What's interesting about Marble House is a Chinese"Tea House", which Mrs Vanderbilt constructed in 1914 on the lawn next to the ocean.  The 24' X 45' pagoda provided a nice backdrop for her women's conferences.  Today it is used for conferences and events with seating for up to about 80 people. 

The decorations on the wall include couplets written in Chinese.  It's apparent that Mrs. Vanderbilt couldn't read Chinese because some of this stuff is downright silly for people who do.  For example one writing says "The words of the lady is like a truck load of ghosts", and another says "She has the heart of a beast.".       

Be that as it may, Mrs. Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont didn't get to her social position by being stupid.  She knew that THE Mrs. Astor didn't accept her as equal because Vanderbilt money was earned, not inherited.  The money wasn't "old" enough.  However, in 1883, Mrs. Astor had to acknowledge her.  Mrs. Vanderbilt planned an elaborate costume ball but dis-invited Mrs. Astor's daughter because Astor had never formally "called" on Vanderbilt.   You had to do that before the days of telephones and email.  Mrs. Astor soon figured out the Vanderbilts would be useful allies because they had more money than anyone else.  She got over there pronto to make peace.

Mrs. Vanderbilt Belmont (1853-1933) was originally from Mobile, Alabama where her father, Murray Smith was a cotton merchant.  He used to send the family up to Newport for the summer.  When the Civil War broke out, he had to get out of Dodge.  The family fled to France where she received her education.  She later had her kids home-schooled and made sure French was their first language.  Her daughter Consuelo (named after her childhood friend who introduced her to Vanderbilt) was forced to wear a metal beam down her back so she would sit up straight.  Then poor Consuelo was coerced, against her wishes to marry Charles Spencer Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, Winston Churchill's cousin. 

The deal was that the Marlboroughs were going broke and couldn't properly maintain Blenheim Palace in England.    Willie Vanderbilt coughed up over $1 million to bail 'em out and buy his daughter a title, Duchess of Marlborough.  After they had a few kids in a loveless marriage, Consuelo divorced the Duke, married Jacques Balsan, a pioneering French pilot who worked with the Wright Bros. (and also inherited a textile fortune), and lived happily ever after. 

The Breakers was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II (the Commodore's grandson) whose wife Alice wanted to out-do her sister in law.  The architect was also Richard Morris Hunt, and he designed the 70 room  cottage in the style of the European High Renaissance.   The Breakers is the must see mansion in Newport--the most opulent of all, and the largest tourist attraction in Rhode Island.  After Cornelius died in 1899, Alice continued to live in the house until her death in 1934.  She married off her daughter Gladys (Countess Gladys Szecheny) to a Hungarian count, and they appeared to be happy.  Gladys lived in the house until 1948 when she leased it to the Newport Preservation Society for $1 per year--she didn't want to maintain it.    Gladys' daughter, Countess Sylvia Szapary lived there until her death in 1998.  The family still lives in the top floor which is not open to the public. 


Rosecliff was built in 1902 for Mrs. Tessie Fair Oelrich who was from Virginia City, Nevada.  The house was designed by Stanford White and modeled after the Louis XIV's Grand Trianon at Versailles.  Her father was an Irish miner who, with 3 other guys, discovered the Comstock Lode in Nevada.  She came into New York society with $40 million which was a lot of money in those days.  Mrs. Astor's influence was waning by that time, and Mrs. Oelrich was able to buy her way into the neighborhood despite her origins on the West Coast.

The significance of Rosecliff was that Hollywood chose it to film at least two major movies--Great Gatsby (1974 version) and  True Lies, the 1994 movie starring Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.


Built in 1901, The Elms was the summer home of Edward J. Berwind who made his money supplying coal to Vanderbilt's New York Central Railroad.     The house was inspired by the 18th Century French Chateau d'Asnieres near Paris, and designed by American architect Horace Trumbauer.   The house, of course, is beautiful, but for me, these houses were starting to run together, although every one was impressive in its own right. 

Berwind was considered "new money" because his folks were middle class German immigrants.  However, his good buddies were President Theodore Roosevelt and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany before he started World War I.  Berwind was hailed as one of the 58 men (no women) who ruled America.  With his clout, nobody was going to turn him away at the door. 

Berwind's wife died in 1922, and he brought in his younger sister Julie Berwind to serve as hostess of The Elms.   She eventually inherited the house and shocked many in Newport when she drove around town in her luxury car.  The car wasn't the problem.  The fact that a woman was driving it was the shocking part.  That was considered un-ladylike.


Perhaps to the dismay of the good citizens of Fall River, Massachusetts, their most popular tourist attraction is the Lizzie Borden house.  In January, 1892, the mutilated bodies of the wealthy (textile mills and banks, not the dairy) Andrew Borden and his wife Abby were found in their beds.  The police charged their spinster daughter Lizzie with the axe murders.   In the sensational trial that ensued, Lizzie, The Nineteenth Century O.J. Simpson, was acquitted by the all male jury after only 90 minutes of deliberation.  Her legend lives on, however.  Today, the Andrew Borden house on Second Street is a bed and breakfast where brave souls can relive the experience. 

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks,
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Not true.   Lizzie's mother, actually her stepmother,  got 19 whacks and her father got only 11.  Whatever the case, the Chad Mitchell Trio expressed the sentiment in song, "You can't chop your papa up in Massachusetts, Massachusetts is a far cry from New York." 


The bridge over the Delaware Water Gap was out, and we had to drive around Easton, PA for a half hour until we could find the place.  Everyone has colored with crayons in school and this is the factory where they make them.  The Crayola Experience is a kiddie show, but we enjoyed the gift shop and the graphics.  This is a 4-story artsy craftsy adventureland for 5 year olds where they can draw on IPAD, print their own crayon labels, melt and mold their own crayons and create drip art.  They even have an indoor playground.

They hit up adults for 18 bucks a head to follow their kids around.  Many complain because the crowds create long lines for the activities.  A good idea would be to visit on a Tuesday during the school year. 

After talking to the attendants, Dianne and I quickly figured out it wasn't worth the money unless we had our grandkids with us.  The gift shop was free, and I elbowed aside some 5 year olds to fill my $14 box with about 100 different colors of the spectrum.  A bin of multi-colored golf balls appeals to other adults although I'm not sure why anyone would want a green golf ball. 


Lancaster County is the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country.  Intercourse, a town of 1200, used to be called Cross Keys when it was founded in 1754 because it was located at the intersection of two highways.  They changed the name to Intercourse in 1814.  Nobody laughed about that for probably another 150 years.  The Amish locals think of intercourse as in fellowship and peaceful interaction.   However, they have to tie down the road signs because people like to steal them.  We visited the post office in town.

Down the road is a larger town, Blue Ball and also Virginville which we didn't visit, as well as Paradise and Mt. Joy.  Stop me before this gets out of hand.   Anyhow, we did drive the few miles down Old Philadelphia Pike from Intercourse to Bird in Hand where we had a wonderful family style dinner at a rustic Amish inn, the Plain and Fancy Farm.  This restaurant had been featured on Man Against Food, on the Travel Channel, starring Adam Richman.   Their specialty is fried chicken, and it is better than the Colonel's.  All the food is fresh from farm to table.  They cater to families with buggy rides.  The large gift shop sells t-shirts with sentiments like "I love Intercourse, PA."  The "PA" is in small letters. 

Many of the locals drive horse drawn buggies which don't go very fast, and you have to watch out for them.  The roads have a paved shoulder which is a separate lane for the buggies.  The horses often leave evidence as a reminder.  It was not clear who is responsible for cleaning the road. 


The three day Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War.  It marked the high point of the Confederate advance into the North.  It was also the bloodiest battle of the war, claiming 8000 lives as well as over 40,000 wounded soldiers.  The two sides squared off about a mile apart, on parallel ridges.   Gen. Robert E. Lee's army camped on the West, with 75,000 troops on and around Seminary Ridge.  Gen. George Meade's 91,000 Union troops faced off on the East on Cemetery Ridge.  Nearby was the small town of Gettysburg where, presumably, the caterers were doing a land office business. 

Two Union generals deserve mention here.  Gen. Meade had, just a few days earlier replaced Gen. Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker as the Commander of the Army of the Potomac.  Hooker's name is etched in history, not for his great performance on the battlefield, but to describe the party girls who accompanied his troops.

As for the other, during the Battle of Gettysburg, Gen. Meade demoted one of his subordinates, Gen. Abner Doubleday for alleged poor performance early in the battle.  Doubleday, who was once credited with inventing baseball (in his Cooperstown barn), harbored a lifelong grudge against Meade. Historians later determined that Meade may have axed the wrong guy--Doubleday's division had actually performed better than the other divisions.

On the third day of the battle, General Lee, attempting to break the stalemate, ordered his troops under Gen. James Longstreet, Gen. George Pickett and others to charge up the middle of the Union lines.  The term "charge" is misleading.  The 12,000 troops actually walked in formation for several miles to engage the Union troops, and the "charge" would have been for only the last hundred yards or so.  Whatever the case, the entrenched Union lines held and the Confederates suffered heavy casualties--over 50% in one hour.  They straggled back to their lines, and Gen. Lee led the retreat back to Virginia. 

Gen. George Pickett's name achieved immortality as a result of the disastrous charge, and in later life he bristled at having it named after him.   Actually his men fought bravely, perhaps more so than those of the other Confederate divisions in the infamous charge.   Perhaps the media picked up on the fact that Gen. Pickett had been the bottom man in the Class of 1846 at West Point.  Well somebody has to be at the bottom. 

On the following day, July 4, 1863, the Siege of Vicksburg was broken by General U.S. Grant.  We visited the Vicksburg Military Park a few months ago.  (KENSUSKINREPORT, March 6, 2014) .Those two battles spelled the end of the game for the South.  Yes, the war continued for more than a year, but the South was running out of men and supplies. 

Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address didn't take place until November 19th, several months later.  The occasion was the dedication of a national cemetery to provide the dead soldiers with proper burial.  The featured speaker, former Massachusetts Senator and Governor Edward Everett delivered the long winded version of the Gettysburg Address, a brilliant two hour oration filled with flowery language and classical allusions.  After a commercial break, somebody needed to wake up the audience, and Honest Abe stepped up and delivered his Gettysburg 2.0, a two minute, 272 word spiel, which is today considered one of the greatest speeches in the English language.  It transformed  "a scene of carnage into a symbol, giving meaning to the sacrifice of the dead and inspiration to the living", as described in the National Park brochure.    They also said Lincoln didn't really write the Address on the back of an envelope on the way there, but had spent days preparing and rehearsing.  "Fourscore and seven years ago...,"--well you've got the idea. 

The military park has a museum and a 24 mile drive past the monuments to the military units of the various states.  If you're a Civil War buff, you could spend days analyzing it.  We aren't, but got all the information we needed from the Cyclorama painting and the narration.  The Cyclorama is a colorful painting which circles around the spectators, like a 19th Century IMAX theater.  It is 42' high by 377' long and weighs 6 tons.  .The painting, by French artist Paul Philippoteaux depicts the Battle of Gettysburg and Pickett's Charge.  It was competed in 1883 and then lost until 1965.  The artist actually painted 4 versions, of which only 2 remain today.

At the 50th Reunion in 1913, the veterans re-created Pickett's charge.  Unfortunately he lost again.  The 75th Reunion in 1938 was attended by an amazing 1,845 veterans of the Civil War (out of 8000 then living).   Of those veterans, 25 had actually fought at Gettysburg.  Hey, these guys were all in their 90's.  The Union and Confederate veterans shook hands over a stone fence.  You can buy the video.  It has been shown on the History Channel. 

The park runs some interesting programs to bring in tourists.  The day we visited was the Gettysburg Music Muster, featuring groups like the Susquehanna Travellers, the Libby Prison Minstrels and the Irish Volunteers performing Civil War era music with guitars, banjos and other instruments.   They researched and performed the songs that soldiers would sing around campfires. 

It's a wonderful experience to relive American history.





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