Movies based on history have been popular since the rise of film in the entertainment industry. Transporting audiences to a different place and time period is something that film has always had the ability to do and often does very well. Though many films that are based on historical subject matter are carefully researched and try to be as historically accurate as possible, many historians take issue with their historical inaccuracies. There are countless opinions out in the world about the importance and role of historical accuracy in film. Most of these opinions fall into one of two camps: those that argue films should try to be more historically accurate if they are portraying a specific event or time period and those that argue that films should be allowed to take creative liberties with historical accuracy.
Historians will often argue, with good reason, that films that do not take historical accuracy seriously run the risk of giving audiences false impressions of historical events or even time periods as a whole. Films are often guilty of idealizing or romanticizing history at least to some degree, which can give the audience a false impression of the history behind the film. History is not black and white; there are often many different sides to a story and lots of gray areas, which can sometimes be difficult to convey in a film.
Many music and art students at Gettysburg College would recognize the name Schmucker as their building, or affectionately their ‘home,’ on campus. Alumni might even remember Schmucker Hall as their library. However, if asked who founded Gettysburg College, most students and alumni would probably not know his name. Fortunately, our campus is celebrating Founders Day this week to remember those, including our founder Samuel Simon Schmucker, who helped make our college #Gettysburgreat.
Samuel Simon Schmucker was born in 1799 in Hagerstown, Maryland to German immigrants. His father, John George Schmucker, was a pastor in Hagerstown before moving to York where he continued his ministry. Samuel Simon Schmucker attended the York County Academy before going to the University of Pennsylvania and then the theological seminary at Princeton. In 1820 he was granted membership in the Lutheran Synod and, by the next year, was ordained as a minister by the Maryland and Virginia Synod. As part of the Synod he was elected to a committee in charge of planning a Lutheran theological seminary. Gettysburg was chosen as the location for the seminary, perhaps because there was a large population of German Lutherans in the Gettysburg area and in Adams County. Classes opened at the Lutheran Theological Seminary on September 5, 1826, but after a year, Dr. Schmucker came to the conclusion that many of his students were not prepared in the manner they should be to continue theological studies. He devised creating a preparatory school to solve the problem. On June 25, 1827, the Classical Preparatory School opened and shared the same building as the Seminary. Due to financial problems, Dr. Schmucker bought the property in 1829 and changed the name of the Classical School to the Gettysburg Gymnasium. As both schools grew, there became a need for the Gettysburg Gymnasium to once again reestablish itself. Dr. Schmucker drafted and proposed a bill to make the Gettysburg Gymnasium into a college “for the education of youth in the learned languages, the arts, sciences, and useful literature.” On November 7, 1832, Pennsylvania College was “opened for the reception of Students.”
When it comes to symbols of emancipation, President Abraham Lincoln is king. No other person is more associated with the abolition of slavery than “The Great Emancipator” himself. This holds true in Gettysburg just as much as it does throughout the country. Only last September, Gettysburg College erected a statue of Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation in the hope that it would “promote the discussion of race relations in America today.” Yet when it comes to commemorating and remembering the struggle for emancipation, Lincoln is far from the only face that we should look to in our historic town.
The borough has a long and rich history of both slavery and liberation. The first African Americans to arrive in Gettysburg did so as slaves to Alexander Dobbin, the Presbyterian minister who founded a classical school in the soon-to-be-incorporated town. The Dobbin House, today a colonial tavern and eatery, was built in 1776 by Dobbin’s slaves. James Gettys, the borough’s founder and namesake, also owned a slave named Sydney O’Brien. For reasons unknown, Gettys freed O’Brien and gave her a house in the southwest corner of the town, close to the Dobbin family home. Thus was born Gettysburg’s free African American community. Continue reading “Challenging Lincoln: How Gettysburg’s Lincoln-centric Emancipation Narrative Has Overshadowed Local Black History”
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to observe one fact about Mars: it has a lot of rocks. While each is typically given a name based on protocols of scientific classification, many are known by informal, often humorous names like “Grandma” and “Space Ghost.” And now on Mars, there’s a rock for fans of Civil War history—“Chamberlain,” named of course for Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top.
Aileen Yingst, the NASA scientist who named the rock, is a resident of Brunswick, Maine—the southern Maine town where JLC notably spent most of his adult life. And to this day, his presence there is inescapable. In Brunswick’s old town center, one can find pictures honoring him in numerous nearby restaurants, including one explicitly named for him. A local ice cream store reminds visitors to recycle their dishes because “Joshua Chamberlain would.” A bronze statue of him stands in a highly visible location close to the gates of the local Bowdoin College—the institution which Chamberlain attended as a student, taught at as a professor, and later served as president. Continue reading “Joshua Chamberlain on Mars: Chambermania and Beyond!”
I had no plans of writing a blog post this week. I said my piece on ghost tours last year. This Halloween, it was the next generation’s turn to share their opinions on the matter. Jules and Jen both did a spectacular job on the subject, and I commend them even though our perspectives differ. But when I learned that my stance had come under fire from another blog, I eagerly leapt from the comfort of my editing armchair and returned to the front lines to compose this piece.
Now, I should clarify that I’m not rejecting folklore as a valid form of making sense of suffering. I firmly believe that it is a core component of Gettysburg’s heritage. I am only rejecting ghost tours as an authentic expression of folklore. It is true that spiritualism has long predated the emergence of the ghost tours industry. But I believe it is problematic to confound folklore with the stories told by ghost tours. Continue reading “I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts”
Whether you believe ghosts exist or not, I think most visitors would agree that if they did in fact exist, there would be a whole community of them living in Gettysburg. Upon entering the stores downtown and looking at the merchandise, it becomes very clear that store owners feed this fascination. Any visitor is bound to see the typical “got ghosts? Gettysburg does” t-shirt or similar merchandise elsewhere in town. The Gettysburg Tour Center even features a selection of books ranging from The Big Book of Pennsylvania Ghost Stories to I Met a Ghost at Gettysburg. Just a few aisles over, next to the “Heritage Not Hate” mugs, there are mouse pads, shot glasses, and even snow globes with “Gettysburg Ghosts” printed all over them.
While many historians ardently oppose the ghost tour industry for its inaccurate portrayal of historical events and trivialization of atrocities, paranormal tourism remains ubiquitous in Gettysburg. What explains this industry’s success? I decided to go out into town and ask employees and visitors why they believe it is so successful, for they, not the historians, are the ones fueling it. Continue reading “GettysBOOrg, PA: Complicating the Ghost Tour Debate”
Many moons ago, I visited Gettysburg as part of the CWI Summer Conference High School Scholarship Program. One night, though exhausted from our daily lectures and tours, a group of us decided to continue indulging in the history around us in a method only a band of curious teenagers would compile: a self-led ghost hunt of the College campus.
The night served to unite us as we exchanged stories of the Blue Boy and the mysterious basement of Penn Hall. We didn’t have fancy equipment for our hunt, but led one another through the dark, unfamiliar paths, intermingling fact and fiction. We didn’t catch sight of any ghosts on Stine Lake, but we made lifelong friendships.
This anecdote leads to a question: where does the concept of Gettysburg’s spookier past fall in a landscape dominated by history? On that night, that group of kids found a way to incorporate it, innocently and with as much truth as we knew. Why, then, is it so difficult for many to reconcile it with the tales of Lee and Meade that haunt this hallowed ground?
“I am so sick of hearing about the Civil War every single day.”
“I didn’t expect there to be so many history nerds at this school.”
“I don’t get why so many tourists come to a little place like Gettysburg.”
I hear constant complaints from fellow Gettysburg College students about how tired they get of hearing about the Civil War. What did they expect coming to Gettysburg College, situated in one of the most visited historic towns in America? More importantly, what is so wrong with hearing about the Civil War so often? I decided that I wanted to investigate—why are so many people drawn to this small town in rural Pennsylvania? What draws millions of people to take time out of their busy lives to explore this special place? I’m hoping that my findings will convince college students that it is worth exploring this history-rich town and maybe for once, get them to stop to read the interpretative markers while they’re out jogging on the battlefield instead of simply passing by.
I conducted my whole investigation by walking up to random people I met in town and asking them all the same simple question: “Why are you here?” I expected to get very similar answers throughout all of my interviews and was ready to keep a tally of people visiting because they are either history buffs or because they have never been to Gettysburg before and just thought they should visit and see what all of the hype is about. I was shocked, however, for no two responses I received were the same. Continue reading ““We Can Never Forget What They Did Here”: What Draws People to Gettysburg?”
On October 6, approximately seventy people gathered at the Gettysburg Visitor’s Center to attend a public forum discussing the future of the site commonly referred to as Lee’s Headquarters. The property is located on Buford Avenue near the Lutheran Seminary and the Seminary Ridge Museum. On July 1, 1863, the area was the site of several artillery pieces, part of the Union retreat route through the town, and on July 2nd and 3rd, it would serve as Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters. After the battle, the site would serve as one of the first automotive tourist spots for the millions of visitors who traveled to view the first day’s battlefield. Small cottages, motels, and eventually the Quality Inn would emerge to cater to the mass of tourists.
The forum began with information relating to the work and reports that have already been completed regarding the Lee’s Headquarters site. These reports detailed what, if any, adverse effects the demolition of the buildings currently on the site—specifically the old Quality Inn motel—would have on the environment and future archeology. The tentative answer is that the removal of the motel would have no such effects. Representatives from the Civil War Trust, the organization that purchased the land, spoke about their goals for the Lee’s Headquarters’ site. Their mission is to either demolish or remove the buildings on the site to another location in order to restore the view of the first day’s battlefield, replant the orchard that use to be on the site, put in period-accurate fences, and create a simple battlefield trail that will tell the story of the battle, the headquarters, and the tourist industry that thrived in the years following the battle. Continue reading “Report from the Headquarters: A Reflection on the Lee’s Headquarters Public Forum”
Most Gettysburg residents took note this past winter when the Appalachian Brewing Company’s branch restaurant near the Lutheran Seminary closed. The Civil War Trust bought the land for its historical value; the structure and an adjacent hotel surround the Mary Thompson House, General Lee’s Headquarters during the battle. From the moment of purchase, the plan had been to demolish the buildings, sow grass, and transfer the four-acre lot to the National Park Service as a prized addition to the park. Most onlookers probably think that the tale is told as soon as the land is bought, cleared, and promised to the park. However, that thinking only pans out in a vacuum. In reality, the results of this purchase—as with any large purchase of land in a community—cannot be foreseen. Too many different actors are involved in and affected by something as simple as the demolition of a couple of businesses and the placing of a conservation easement on a property. And for those who stand to be affected by this purchase, controversy is pervasive and understandable.