History Lessons

More than any of our other trips so far, this one has been all about absorbing history. As we head into Southcentral Pennsylvania, this isn’t about to change.

Our headquarters for two nights is Harrisburg East Campground, where we pay an astonishing $50/night for two nights. The WiFi setup is very lame, working only sporadically in the very early morning hours. We don’t have a television, so the expansive cable service is unused. And for some ridiculous reason, we can’t hook up to the sewer. But, this place did have one of the nicest bathrooms we have found, and the location was perfect for exploring Harrisburg. So, here we are….

John has mapped a bicycle route into town, and off we go, After a short hairy stretch involving an Interstate underpass and no bicycle lane. we find ourselves on the Greenbelt, a non-motorized path which leads us into town. Whew. A decaying neighborhood of row houses is along the path. When you see an area like this, don’t you always wonder what is must have been like in its heyday? I sure do. 20151016_130501Although Harrisburg probably has lots to offer visitors, our list was short – the State Capitol building, National Civil War Museum, and a brewpub. If nothing else, we are predictable. First up is the Capitol.20151016_11575920151016_120604Adjoining the Capitol building is the Services building. I actually laughed out loud walking inside – it looks like a cheesy Vegas casino – all teal and peachy colors with cold, high ceilings. Truly, this was one of the most absurd public buildings I’ve ever been in, and my expectations for the Capitol building itself were lowered. But, all of the sudden, we’re in an old hallway with massive chandeliers. Hmmmm, Pennsylvania is redeeming itself. Suddenly, we’re in the rotunda, and like everyone else, we gasped. 20151016_121158I wished I had the nerve to lay on my back an get the photos I really wanted to capture, but I restrained myself (John helped). Gold leaf, marble statues, words of wisdom about truth and science – it’s all here. The visual treat goes on and on. 20151016_12125820151016_12170320151016_12211620151016_123016We notice a tour group heading into the House of Representatives chamber, so we file in with them. Oh, to be an elected official, and go to work there every day! I was unable to get any photos, as the room was dim, and we were trying very hard to blend into the group. (We tried to catch them later, as they went into the Senate chamber, but the door slammed just ahead of our noses, and our polite knocks went unanswered).

We had better luck in the Governor’s office, where John patiently waited for about three minutes for the man to show up. In vain. Maybe it was the yellow jacket?20151016_124523

The Civil War Museum sits atop the Greenbelt, and overlooks the entire city and Susquehanna River Valley. It’s an impressive sight. 20151016_14310620151016_143306We watched videos, examined artifacts, and explored the dioramas of the Civil War, explored from both the position of the North and the South. No matter how hard I try to understand the position of the South, I cannot get my head around ownership by one person of another. That’s about all I can come away with from this experience.20151016_13301020151016_132815All this history stuff leaves a couple of Northerners with a powerful thirst. Lancaster Brewing Company, here we come. The beer was tasty, but the coolest thing was the Rolling Stones pinball machine. 20151016_15212820151016_152000Oh, how I want one of those at my house!

We head toward a new campsite at Caledonia State Park, our headquarters for exploring Gettysburg. Checking in on a Saturday, the campground is a madhouse – trailers and tents absolutely jammed into this tiny chaotic park. We could only get a non-electric site, and John considers winterizing the Fireball, since the temperature is supposed to dip into the 20s for the two nights we are there. Fortune shines on us though – as we are pulling in, our neighbors are packing up. Busted tent poles, surly teenagers and a sick baby are more than this mom can handle. So, their electric site becomes ours. Yay! This photo was taken Sunday afternoon – when we returned from visiting the Military Park, the entire campground had cleared out. Another yay!20151018_180547Early Sunday morning, we drove to Gettysburg Military Park. Our plan was to hit the Visitor Center, watch the movie, then bicycle through the battlefield auto tour. The film, narrated by Morgan Freeman is a perfect start for exploration. For me, it’s helpful to see a visual plotting of troop movements and battle lines. After the movie, we viewed the fully restored Gettysburg Cyclorama. This painting is 372 feet long and 42 feet high, mounted in a circular dome. First shown in Boston in 1884, it’s amazing.20151018_11411120151018_114230 The Museum is another place where we could have lingered for hours. We truly rushed through way too quickly, in order to catch a glimpse of everything there.

It’s cold and windy, but getting around by bike is still the best way to view the Park, in our opinion. I really cannot get my head around the misery of the Civil War.  At Gettysburg along, 7000 men were killed, another 30,000+ were injured, and thousands more were missing or captured. In just three days. So, I’ll just close with a few photos. You really must visit Gettysburg yourself for this history lesson.20151018_12510220151018_14074720151018_13240620151018_13240620151018_13084420151018_13162420151018_143530And, when you’re in Gettysburg, make a stop at Gettysbrew. This brewery has to win the contest for most unusual site for a brewpub ever – the building originally was a Civil War hospital. Interesting spot, with okay beer.20151018_153013


10 thoughts on “History Lessons

  1. We made a quick detour to Gettysburg a few weeks ago on our tour of Virginia. Posts at some point – I’m behind! I agree with you – it is very powerful to think about what happened there. It is my second trip, and I want to go again!


  2. The opulence of the Capitol building is breathtaking! I’ll bet that you’re not the first to have thought of laying on your back to shoot photos of the inside of the dome, I’d be willing to bet that some people have.

    I used to be a Civil War buff, I read most of Bruce Catton’s ( A fellow Michigander) books, and thought that I’d visit the major battlefields over time. I managed to visit a few, but not many, and not Gettysburg, so I was very interested in your take on it. Maybe some day I’ll make it there, I should, going from what you showed us here.


    • After seeing several Capitol building, John and I are on a quest to see more. We saw the Providence RI Dome from the expressway, and now I’m sad that we didn’t take the time to visit. Haven’t been to Lansing inside the Capitol for year, so its probably time for another visit there, too.

      We have a friend who’s very knowledgeable about the Civil War. He and John visited Gettysburg, Antietam, and a couple other battlefields a few years ago, so John had lots of extra info to share with me. Even if you only have a passing interest in the Civil War, as I do, there is so much here to see and appreciate. Your camera would really bring these places alive.


  3. What a difference a few days make! We are at the Gettysburg KOA in our T@b and the weather has been beautiful! End of season here for this KOA & it is very quiet. No neighbors on either side. Didn’t use heater most of last night but have sleeping bags. Hired a ranger to give us a 2 hr tour of battlefield. Couldn’t imagine covering it all on bikes! We are heading toward Buffalo & into Ontario…hoping to avoid a freeze!


    • This is some crazy weather, isn’t it, Terri? We’ve found our last few campgrounds to be absolutely packed on the weekends, but empty during the week. Guess we can live with that. Our weather forecast looks decent for the next week. A bit of rain, but we’re not daunted by that. Think we’ll be safely back home before any extended freezing weather.

      Safe travels. Stay warm.


  4. Learning history in the actual places where it was created is one of the best reasons to travel. I’m loving your take on the history you’re seeing. Gettysburg was overwhelming for me. They were working on the diorama when we were there. Glad they’ve finished it. Are you going to Hershey for the Chocolate Factory tour? I wasn’t very impressed but my godsons loved it.


    • We skipped Hershey – chocolate snobs that we are. Can’t imagine the kid who wouldn’t want to go there, though. ;-)

      History and warfare is an odd thing – John would definitely be the military strategist in our family, while supply tactics would be my interest. But, how can anyone avoid thinking about suffering on such a huge scale? It’s mind-boggling. We’ve been to several Civil War battlefields now. Each is different, yet the same in many respects.


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