Over 200,000 people will descend on the small south-central Pennsylvania town through the Fourth of July weekend. You may ask what’s so great about Gettysburg; visitors contribute more than $100 million in local, state and federal taxes. Thousands of employees are supported by the sojourn of re-enactment participators.
The first of two massive scheduled re-enactments held in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s focal conflict ended on Sunday. The National Park Service held its commemoration ceremony highlighting the event. Many thousands of individuals were on hand to witness the ceremony and the media coverage of the sensation was extensive.
“Tonight, we’re here to honor the dead; to recognize their courage and heroism; and to mark this major event in American history,” Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis Said.
“We expect to be ramping up as we head into July 1st,” said Carl Whitehill, spokesman for the Gettyburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The re-enactment at the end of the week is expected to be the big, big event.”
“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 portrayed Confederate General Lewis Armistead.
“Profiteers went out to scour the battlefield, after the fighting was over, to search for relics to sell,” said Peter Carmichael, professor of history at Gettysburg College. What’s so great about Gettysburg, spending patterns have reached $605 million during the week-long event.
George Lomas, owner of The Regimental Quartermaster store stated he has been preparing for months for the week’s event. He said of the commercialization of the festival, “That happens. That’s business. I don’t think it’s over-commercialized. Of course, I’m prejudiced.”
Jeff Shaara, bestselling author of “Gods and Generals”, was signing books at the wax museum Saturday morning. He stated he saw commercialism as a way to help the community pay for the taxes that in turn paid for infrastructure.
“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.”
Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis voiced the significance of the celebratory events of Gettysburg. “But I would suggest we’re also here to reaffirm the principles that demanded such terrible sacrifices in the summer of 1863,” Jarvis continued. “The ‘new birth of freedom’ President (Abraham) Lincoln spoke of was not a finite event…It was part of a process that continued long after the Civil War and which, today, requires our constant vigilance.”
What’s so great about Gettysburg, that question can have varying degrees of responses depending on the person addressed. The facts speak volumes and numbers do not tell a tale. Visitation to the event has been marked at 3.17 million in recent years following initial ceremonies and with revenues in the millions locals do see the commercial appeal of today’s Gettysburg celebrations.
By Thomas Barr