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Battle of Gettysburg 150th anniversary has town in high gear

June 28, 2013|By Devin Kelly
  • Reenactors demonstrate a battle during ongoing activities commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg on Friday at Bushey Farm in Gettysburg, Pa.
Reenactors demonstrate a battle during ongoing activities commemorating… (Matt Rourke / Associated…)

The town of Gettysburg is in high gear after years of preparation to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the historic Civil War battle--events expected to generate about $100 million for a local economy wrapped tightly around historic tourism. 

More than 200,000 visitors are expected to pour into the south-central Pennsylvania town for a packed schedule that includes re-enactments, tours and dramatic readings. On the “eve of battle,” Sunday night, the official commemorative ceremony held by the National Park Service will be followed by a candlelight procession into the national cemetery.

The battle of Gettysburg, which took place July 1-3, 1863, was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Plans to commemorate the pivotal clash between Union and Confederate forces have been years in the making.

Organizers have taken to calling it Gettysburg’s “Olympic moment” for scale and grandeur.  

“We’ve never done anything like this, at least our generation hasn’t,” said Carl Whitehall, spokesman for the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. His group estimated $100 million in tourism revenue.

Park employees already refer to this time of year as the “high holy days.” The 150th anniversary has injected just a bit more pomp into the circumstances.

“This is just the ‘high holy days’ on steroids,” said parks spokeswoman Katie  Lawhon, who has worked at Gettysburg for more than 20 years.

Visitors to town will see historic dress, normal around Gettysburg, in even more full display than usual.

The first reenactment, held by the Blue-Gray Alliance group, began Friday morning on a private farm outside the battlefield. About 10,000 Civil War enthusiasts were expected to take part.

A second reenactment, held by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee on a farm north of town, will close out the commemoration from July 4-7.  

One new Gettysburg museum timed its grand opening for July 1, the first day of battle.

The Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum will be housed in a rehabilitated historic building on the Lutheran Theological Seminary Campus. The brick structure, built in 1832, served as a field hospital during the battle and treated more than 600 soldiers from both sides.

Exhibitions provide a detailed look at the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg on Seminary Ridge, and explore themes of faith and freedom in the Civil War, said museum spokeswoman Dru Anne Neil.

The building’s crooked windowsill and exposed wood fit into the the museum's theme of entering a place frozen in time, she added.

Earlier this week, though, restoration crews scrambled to make sure one of the park’s historic monuments was ready for the main events. Just days ago, a wind storm felled a monument that had been standing for 125 years.

The life-sized bronze statue infantry soldier is portrayed swinging a rifle musket in his hands like a baseball bat. It is a monument to the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry, symbolizing the height of the fighting during the Confederate advance known as “Pickett’s Charge.” The statue was originally dedicated by veterans on the 25thanniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

After the fall, the rifle musket was bent and there was some damage to the bronze arm attached at the right shoulder, Lawhon said.

Gettysburg is home to 1,300 monuments and 400 sculptures, and the park’s preservation crew has plenty of experience making fixes, she said. Staff discovered the fallen monument Wednesday morning. It was back up on its stone pedestal by 5 p.m.

“There is probably no other national park that can get out there and fix that monument in one day,” Lawhon said.

The monument, one of the park’s most memorable, will have to go back into the shop for a few more fixes, Lawhon said.

But the soldier will stand, musket in hand, for the duration of the anniversary week events.  

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devin.kelly@latimes.com

Twitter: @devkelly17

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