It was the battle that turned the tide for the Confederate States of America. General Robert E. Lee’s gamble was lost in three days fighting in the orchards and fields of this pastoral Pennsylvania hamlet during July 1863. The southern forces were not defeated. They retreated from the field. Both sides suffered great loss and casualties. Yet with Lee’s retreat from Gettysburg the hope of a fast settlement of the war of secession ended. Fighting would continue as the South hemorrhaged slowly until Lee’s eventual surrender at Appomatox Courthouse, Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Each year Gettysburg hosts a festival that brings the arts in all its forms together for a week in June. Visitors are treated to fine food, art shows, music, dance and free concerts. The sprawling campus of Gettysburg College is host to many music events. The town opens its doors to many more. Adams County becomes an open air venue for many fringe events that welcome visitors to enjoy the beginning of summer.
Whether a family ride across the hallowed ground where the battle was fought with licensed battlefield guide Jim Kralik from his National Riding Stable on Artillery Ridge, a tethered hot air balloon ride above the college campus, music from authentic Civil war era instruments played by brass bands or theatrical performances, rock and country music on stage, Gettysburg Fest is the place to be.
Go on line and follow the events at www.gettysburgfestival.org. Most everything is free or at nominal charge. Concerts and food events require tickets that can be purchased on line or at the ticket booth. “This year offers and action packed, must attend experience for locals and visitors alike. I refer to it as ‘The best five days of your summer,'” Randy Prasse the Festival Director wrote in his invitation to all attendees.
Pennsylvania is farming country. Bank barns remain as bastions of the past when Europeans brought their culture to this part of America and began agricultural exploits in the new land. Historic barns are preserved by the National Park Service where they are on parkland and by private owners that share the history and love of the areas diverse culture. The Historic Gettysburg Adams County Barn Preservation Project sponsors a barn art show and sale in the Gettysburg GAR Hall. The reception is not to be missed as is their display of artistic renderings of antique barns.
There are dancing lessons on a beautiful knoll overlooking the valley at Hauser Estate Winery along with free wine tastings and evening events that combine food and wine. Photography exhibits are everywhere in town. Local banks, art galleries and public institutions turn their open spaces over to the Festival for displays. An Edible Art Tour is a highlight of the Festival. Local chefs vie for an opportunity to tempt the palate with their specialities. The food is delicious and the surrounding art venues entice the mind. Local wineries supply their best tastings. The mood of visitors is enhanced by the intimacy of art, culinary and creative, with artists readily available to discuss their works and interact with the public.
A program entitled History Meets the Arts offers colonial music, sculpture, paintings and book signings by authors. This is a chance to meet well known authors and get a personally autographed copy of their books. Farm country is the place for an ice cream social. Kennie’s Market in town will provide old fashioned pie and ice cream for the fun.
There are battle related events everywhere. The Spangler Farm, a field hospital during the Battle of Gettysburg, hosts historical programs about the working of a hospital during the Civil War. Whole streets become the venue for brass bands that play tunes of the Victorian era and military music from the war. The Lincoln Train Museum offers a ride back through history of railroading. It features the historic train ride that carried the dead president’s body home to Springfield , Illinois. The spectacular displays describe the legacy of Lincoln and American heritage as well as the ideals of liberty.
The Gettysburg historic center operated by the Park Service, the cemetery, the battlefield itself and the many monuments established over time by veterans groups are awe inspiring. There is a Diorama that describes the battle as it unfolded. Miniature soldiers set in vignettes on the field realistically portray the three days of fighting that took place in surrounding fields.
Country music stars will appear live on stage. Actors will grace the boards in dramatic portrayals, buskers will walk the streets, ghost tours of Gettysburg will describe haunted events, musicians and artists will entertain. This year promises to be a grand gala for the Gettysburg Festival, prelude to a summer full of interesting events with the annual re-enactment of the battle in early July. Pleasures of Pennsylvania’s bucolic countryside beckon.
Plan to attend and enjoy what is really a summer-long educational and entertaining time. For more information visit www.gettysburgfestival.org or go to any social media site and use gettysburgfest.