The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Gettysburg At 150

June 29, 2013

As ‘war’ rages, Gettysburg vendors hope to cash in

GETTYSBURG — As re-enacted war raged several miles away, tourists strolled a commercial strip of Gettysburg to survey T-shirts, hats and other trinkets to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s pivotal battle.

More than 200,000 people — including thousands of re-enactors — are expected to visit this small south-central Pennsylvania town through Fourth of July weekend to mark the milestone.

And it’s a prime opportunity for vendors to make some money.

Sightseers can pick up one of the many incarnations of “150th Anniversary” T-shirts at stores along about a two-block stretch of one of the main drags in town, Steinwehr Avenue, less than a quarter-mile from the Gettysburg National Military Park. One store, in between two shops that promote ghost tours, had “Army of the Potomac” and “Army of Northern Virginia” athletic department shirts among offerings hanging on its porch.

A few visitors said they aren’t comfortable with the consumerism in town.

“I don’t like the commercialism. I think they can do a lot less of it,” said Richard Gow, 65, of Binghamton, N.Y. Dressed sharply in a gray uniform, Gow was portraying noted Confederate Gen. Lewis Armistead outside the American Civil War Wax Museum.

Then Gow — himself a U.S. Army veteran who served during Vietnam — looked toward the battlefield, just down the road. That is where the self-proclaimed Civil War buff, who said his family ties trace back to Confederate Major Gen. John Gordon, said visitors can find what’s really important.

“It’s the grounds,” he said reverentially, referring to the fields and hills where up to 10,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died in the Civil War’s pivotal conflict. “It’s an honor to be here.”

Federal forces turned away the Confederates during fierce fighting on July 1-3, 1863, ending with the South’s ill-fated Pickett’s Charge across an open field against Union soldiers.

George Lomas, owner of The Regimental Quartermaster store on the busy commercial strip said he’s been gearing up for this week for months. His business primarily attracts re-enactors looking to buy period military jackets, shirts and belts along with bayonets and muskets.

Smaller tables near the front door carried 150th anniversary T-shirts and more kitschy items like a pen shaped like a mini-drumstick inscribed with “Civil War.”

Re-enactors have been streaming in this week, Lomas said, but he also sells items for tourists.

When asked about people who may think Gettysburg is too commercialized, Lomas said, “That happens. That’s business. I don’t think it’s over-commercialized. Of course, I’m prejudiced.”

He noted how a stretch of road along the actual battlefield actually became less commercialized. He was referring to the Park Service’s efforts in recent years to rehabilitate major areas of the battlefield to make it better resemble the territory soldiers encountered 150 years ago.

One of the changes involved removing a motel that that once stood across the street from a monument for Ohio soldiers. The rehabilitation process grew out of a master plan in 1999 that didn’t set the 150th anniversary as a deadline — though park officials say it was a welcome and timely coincidence.

Author Michael Shaara’s 1974 novel, “The Killer Angels,” and the 1993 movie, “Gettysburg,” based on the book have been credited with the increased interest in the Civil War battle in recent decades.

Shaara died in 1988. His son, Jeff, himself a bestselling author whose “Gods and Generals” was the 1996 prequel to his father’s classic, was signing books at the wax museum Saturday morning. He said he saw commercialism as a way to help the community pay for the taxes that in turn paid for infrastructure.

Shaara said other scenes in and around Gettysburg this anniversary week had to be taken into account, like lines of Boy Scouts eagerly going through the National Park Visitors Center; or dedicated history buffs wearing wool uniforms on a sunny summer afternoon marching in detailed formations to recreate the fighting.

“There are a myriad of draws of why people come here. The commercialism? We’re a capitalist society. You’re free to open a store and sell whatever it is you want to sell,” he said. “But to me, it doesn’t destroy what’s here. It’s sort of a necessary part of it.”

Many other visitors said modern Gettysburg strikes the appropriate balance between capitalizing on its notoriety and paying reverence to the conflict: No amusement parks, no roller coasters.

“This kind of brings history alive,” said Dave Gish, 54, a pastor from Wilton, Conn., who took photos of a re-enactment between Union and Confederate cavalry featuring hundreds of horses. “It’s the kind of thing where this is pretty much what you’re coming for.”

Capitalism is at work on the grounds of the re-enactment, as well.

Re-enactors and shoppers seeking authentic trinkets can head 19th-century-style tent city where shopkeepers offer items appropriate for the period or to re-stock the soldiers — just like traveling suppliers did in the 1860s.

Text Only
Gettysburg At 150
  • Gettysburg Photo Gallery

    June 28, 2013

  • xgettys02.jpg Danville native leads honored guests across Gettysburg battlefield

    GETTYSBURG — Danville native Susan Reichen Boardman said the most incredible thing she has done so far during Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary celebration was chaperone the author of the book which partly inspired the Oscar-winning movie “Lincoln.”

    July 2, 2013 1 Photo

  • Gettysburg residents seek black history museum

    GETTYSBURG — Gettysburg’s small African-American community proudly tells stories of ancestors who fought in the Civil War, of a young woman who shook President Abraham Lincoln’s hand and of the men who buried thousands of bodies after the battle.

    July 1, 2013

  • Shaped by history, Gettysburg celebrates milestone

    GETTYSBURG — Gettysburg changed the direction of American history 150 years ago, and the town hasn’t been the same since.

    July 1, 2013

  • Lewisburg native will be busy this week in Gettysburg

    GETTSYBURG — It’s going to be a busy week for Jim Pangburn, a Lewisburg native who moved to southcentral Pennsylvania about 10 years ago to pursue his dream of being a full-time, licensed battlefield tour guide at the site of arguably the most famous Civil War battle.

    July 1, 2013

  • Gettysburg offers lessons on battlefield medicine

    GETTYSBURG — As gunshots ravaged the bodies of tens of thousands of soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg, military doctors responded with a method of treatment that is still the foundation of combat medicine today.

    June 30, 2013

  • For re-enactors, Gettysburg is pinnacle of hobby

    GETTYSBURG — The commander of the Confederate army marched to the front of the makeshift classroom in jeans and a dress blue shirt to deliver battle plans to his top lieutenants, complete with a PowerPoint presentation and laser pointer.

    June 30, 2013

  • Real lives, real suffering

    For veteran Civil War re-enactor John Deppen, this week — marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg — is of particular significance.

    June 29, 2013

  • Horses also train for battle scenes

    Despite relentless blasts from cannons and muskets, Ringo didn’t flinch when pompoms were inserted into his ears.

    June 29, 2013

  • As ‘war’ rages, Gettysburg vendors hope to cash in

    As re-enacted war raged several miles away, tourists strolled a commercial strip of Gettysburg to survey T-shirts, hats and other trinkets to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s pivotal battle.

    June 29, 2013

The Daily Marquee