Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gettysburg Cyclorama and Amish Farm Tour in Lancaster

Monday morning we went back to the Gettysburg visitor center to view the film about the battle and the  Cyclorama.  The film, narrated by the glorious voice of Morgan Freeman, was an excellent description of each of the three days of the battle, how it all started quite by an accidental encounter between two small units, and yet turned into one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.  Though the war lasted for another two years after Gettysburg, most agree that this was the turning point in the war.  Anyway, it was a very good film and I highly recommend it for anyone visiting Gettysburg.

After the movie, we went directly into the huge round room to view the Cyclorama--the painting first done in 1863 by French artist Paul Dominique Pillippodeaux, depicting Pickett's Charge.  The current painting has been restored and now measures some 22 ft. high and is nearly 360 ft. in circumference.  As you stand on this circular platform and look out onto the painting, you see some things they've added  like wagons and other equipment to give it more of a 3 D effect.  As the narrator describes the various stages of the battle, sound effects go off and there are bursts of back lighting to simulate explosions and it is really a remarkable effect.  Rather than sign the painting, the artist painted himself into the mural, so one of the docents pointed him out to everyone after the show was over.

Next we spent some time in the museum, which had some duplication of what we'd seen in the film, the Cyclorama and at the John Brown museum, but there are also a number of different exhibits, some of which were particularly interesting, especially the excerpts from letters of people who lived at the time, soldiers from both sides and civilians.  There was also one that explained what happened to various of the significant figures, both military and government officials, after the war.  Perhaps one of the most impactful exhibits was one containing excerpts from the so called Cornerstone Speech by Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy, delivered in 1861, in which he very clearly declared that secession was all about slavery.  Over the years I've heard so many people claim that the Civil War was not about slavery, but this speech leaves no doubt about this.  After claiming that the  authors of the US Constitution were wrong in their belief that slavery was a moral evil, he famously declared:  "Our new Government [the Confederacy] is based on exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition."  Very sobering and very sad.  Being in Gettysburg brought back up in my mind much of the factual history of that battle and the whole Civil War, much of the details of which I had forgotten.  But it also was a reminder of the utter craziness of war, a lesson we humans seem never to really learn.

After leaving Gettysburg we headed for the Amish country around Lancaster, PA.  This area has long been special to us--45 years ago we spent our honeymoon in the Poconos and the Amish country.  When we were first in this area, we hired a Mennonite guide to lead us on a driving tour of the area, and we were both quite fascinated to learn about these folks, who have always tried to live quite simply and separately, without the modern conveniences, even though the modern world was steadily growing closer to them, literally and figuratively.  Coming back after all these years, a lot has changed--much more development, more and more non-Amish houses and farms all around those of the Amish.  We took a tour in a horse drawn buggy, with a retired Amish farmer named Ben, who was a delightful fellow, and who was quite informative and candid about the Amish traditions, the struggles they have trying to maintain their community and their way of life, particularly among their teenagers, in the midst of modern day America.  He explained how they are divided up into various church districts, under the governance of the bishops, who periodically convene to set and change rules for their society; how they only go to school through the 8th grade, and then begin to learn a trade; how the farms are passed down from father to the youngest son in the family, so if any of the older sons want a farm they have to try to buy land from others, and lots of other customs and rules that seem so quaint and perplexing to those of us who are not Amish.  They famously do not use electricity--at least in the form of wiring into their houses, barns, buildings--but sometimes there are generators used to produce electricity, which somehow is okay.  We saw people, some adults but mostly children and youth riding what look like a combination between a push scooter and a bicycle--has bicycle wheels, but no pedals, just a platform like a scooter, so you push along with one foot.  They are not allowed to drive cars, but, for example, one of his grown sons has a landscape business, so he can own a truck and can ride in it, he just can't drive it.  So he has to hire one non Amish person to drive it.  While they are not allowed to have cell phones in their homes, his son needs a cell phone for his business, so he's allowed to use it at work, but not at home--like so many other religious groups, these folks have met the conflict between strict adherence to traditional rules and the realities of existence in the modern world, and have made their accommodations.  When we were first here, the guide was very clear in pointing out that we were not to take pictures of any of the people, as this was against their religious practices.  Ben had no such reservations, and told us we were free to take his picture, and when he took us to an Amish farm, he told us the owner was okay with our taking pictures of his children, since he, like Ben, worked for the same company driving buggy tours, and realized that this would help him make money.  So we saw lots of farm implements being pulled by horses rather than tractors; what motorized equipment they did use was powered by diesel, just not by gasoline, and had no rubber tires, but metal wheels are okay.  While we were on the farm we saw some concrete trucks and feed trucks, and Ben explained that it was okay for the farmer to hire outside people to drive their trucks to the farm for delivery and construction, just that the Amish couldn't drive them.  Very interesting, and fascinating.  We also had a treat as there was a dairy farmer from Illinois and his family in the buggy with us so it was great to hear his observation about how his farming practices are really not very different from the Amish, just that he uses motorized tractors and other equipment.  Quite an interesting day from start to finish!

Some shots of scenes on the Cyclorama
 The Angle

 The Union soldier with the red beard, by the tree, is the artist Phillippodeaux

Some scenes along the way to Lancaster

 Soybeans in the field

 Lovely display outside the restaurant where we had lunch

Some shots of Amish farms as we drove into the area

 Old one room schoolhouse, where all the children, grades one through eight, were together

 In the buggy--that's Ben with the straw hat up front.  The two people on the bench beside him are a mother and her 13 year old son from Denmark; her English was impeccable, and she probably asked more questions than anyone, as she was fascinated to learn about the Amish ways

 As we pulled into the farm, we saw the farmer cutting the cornstalks, which would then be baled for later use as bedding for the animals in the barns.  A team of 4 mules pulled the cutter, which had a small diesel engine mounted on top to run the cutter
 Ben, with the Illinois farmer and his family, as we got off the buggy to tour the farm

 Beautiful mums by the farmer's house--when you first looked at the farm houses like this one, they all seemed little different from any others you see, until you realize that there are no electric lines running to the house, and you see these long clotheslines full of clothes drying in the air--no dryers in these houses!

 Typical Amish buggy
 Feed corn piled near one of the barns
 The farm house was similar in design to other houses in the area, including this garage--just that instead of a car, there was a buggy in the garage
 Two of the farmer's older children, just coming home from schools on their "scooter bikes"  Note that the school has the children wearing these reflective vests when they ride

The farmer's preschool age children, playing on pony cart in the yard

 Pregnant cows, in their special barns, awaiting their time to deliver calves
 This horse took a liking to the Danish woman on our tour!
 As we walked into the milking barn, Ben explained how the cows are milked at 5:00 AM and at 5:00 PM--we were there about 3:30 and this poor cow looks like she can't wait for the 5:00 milking to come!
Newborn calf, just a day old!
Ben, in the milking barn, explaining how they don't hand milk anymore, but their mechanized milkers are diesel powered and not electric
This farmer also makes apple cider, so this is the huge pile of pulp from the cider presses, which they will use as feed for the cattle
A better shot of the corn stalk cutter, showing the diesel motor behind the team
Inside the big hay barn
Quite a contrast--seeing these concrete trucks in the middle of this farming operation which is so primitive in other ways--here you get a glimpse of the wheel on the farmer's tractor in the lower left--just an iron wheel with no rubber tire
Alfalfa hay covered and sealed in plastic to ferment

Just outside the farm house, the propane tank and the outhouse
The children's play equipment in the back yard
All the corn they grow is used for livestock feed

This young man was bringing a can of diesel fuel out to another field to refuel one of the small cutter engines
The little covered bridge they had put up by the place where we got on our buggy ride
Clothes drying on the line at an Amish house
Just love the colorful fall displays of pumpkins and squash!  Glad it will still be fall when we get home, so I can put up similar displays like I do every year at our house!


  1. Looks like a great time! It is one of our favorite areas that we keep going back too.