Day 4: Few Things More American

Posted by Whit Barringer , Saturday, May 31, 2008 10:00 PM

Note: I'm sorry about the dead-pan boring narrative I had going in those last three entries. It's hard going from morning to night walking, driving, reading, browsing, and writing (too many cognitive processes, not enough hours in the day). I promise that the narrative will pick up a little from this entry forward, and that the finale (to be revealed soon!) will not (read: hopefully will not) disappoint.



There are few things more American than war and chocolate, and I did both today. We set out early this morning, Jeremy again not in tow. We traveled first to that battlefield of great renown – Gettysburg.

We first went to Visitor's Center, but I had to go back to the car because of "no backpack" signs. I was annoyed because I had planned on walking around with it. No sooner had we walked in the front door than I saw four different people with backpacks and no one stopping them.

The visitor's center is apparently brand new or damn close. They had a "saloon" that was like a cafeteria, guided tours, a movie theater, a huge gift shop, and a free museum. We opted to just do the free museum at first, but I was not disappointed. When first walking towards the museum, two videos are playing on opposite sides of the entrance. The one of the left is a video of how a Civil War soldier would have loaded his gun. The one on the right is how a soldier would load a cannon. Before entering the main part of the museum, two cases side by side, show the classic blue and grey uniforms of the North and South. It's not so hard to imagine a time when the men who wore those uniforms would have rather destroyed each other and their ideals than stand shoulder to shoulder. Now they stand together, long without bodies to fill them.

The museum is laid out in chronological order. The first part gives the reasons and events leading up to the war. Then there is another part describing how the war had gone thus far. The next three parts after that were for each day of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863). The final part was dedicated to the myriad events that happened after the war, including Lincoln's assassination, the ultimate failure that was Reconstruction, and Democrat politics up until Woodrow Wilson. Throughout the museum there were touch-screen computers that could illustrate parts of the battle. I looked up Confederacy regiments that were in Gettysburg fighting, and sure enough one lone Arkansas regiment was there, far away from home.

When we finished the museum, I went to the gift shop (the other two had already gone to the gift shop while I had been wandering through the museum). While I was in there, seeing things I wanted to buy and nothing that I really should, I heard a woman screeching at one of the workers. I looked over and heard her mention something about "Nehzi swastikas" (at least, that's how I would imitate her later – I don't think her accent was that bad). It turns out she was upset about – are you ready? – the story selling paraphernalia with Confederate flags. Did you catch that we're at a Civil War museum? Her argument was that you would never see Nazi flags in a World War II museum. All I can say to that is that she's never been to a good World War II museum. If you have a World War II museum that doesn't have a single swastika in it, then you've either got a museum on the eastern theater or one with any less than inconspicuous "All Hail America!" theme. She continued to complain to the woman, raising her voice loud enough for everyone to hear. Finally she asked for the manager. After squawking at her about the flag being on Confederate coasters and getting no satisfaction (I'm sure nothing less than pulling everything with a confederate flag on it from the shelves would have sufficed), she asked to speak to that person's boss.

Listen to me, people. I understand what the swastika has come to represent (it wasn't always that way). I understand that it became the symbol of one of the darkest hours humanity has ever faced. I realize that the Confederate battle flag has become the symbol of a lost people and a lost cause that was evil and oppressive. But just as not every man, woman, and child in the South was a slaveholder (West Virginia didn't secede from Virginia for no reason), not every man, woman, and child was a Nazi. The first and foremost reason that the Confederacy entered into the Civil War was not really just slavery, but for the overarching issue of states' rights. The Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler provoked World War II not just because of its Aryan ideology, but because Germany was full of bitter hungry people who rewarded a man who gave them bread with their service and lives. Neither the aristocratic slave-holding South nor the insane racist NSDAP were indicative of the whole. Does that mean that things didn't go wrong? That the worst crimes in the history of humanity were not committed while the world stood by and watched? Absolutely not. But to raise hell over coasters is picking the wrong battle.

I almost went and bought the coasters, but, after much deliberation, I decided on a nice blue and gray keychain instead.

We went and ate in the Saloon for lunch. I had a chicken sandwich with some sort of olive spread on it. I thought it was pretty good for a visitor's center saloon (not that I have much of a basis for comparison). Afterward, we went straight to the car to begin the auto tour. Rachel had bought the tour CD, but my CD player had been acting up since we left Arkansas. It was content to leave us in silence as it had most of the trip, so we had to play the CD on my laptop and its pitiful speakers. We followed the auto tour routes, but we got lost with the CD. Ash got frustrated. I turned off the laptop, and we took pictures in silence so nobody would have a reason to blow up.

We got out in a little park area right after it started raining. We were only a few steps away from the Gettysburg cemetery, so we decided to go ahead and go. The field primarily for soldiers was adjacent to the larger city cemetery for Gettysburg. A good sized monument stands close to the entrance commemorating Lincoln's speech. Surprisingly, the monument is not on top of the place where he gave the speech. It is some 100 or so yards away, which is now where the Soldier's monument is.

We walked on the sidewalks, taking note of the hundreds and hundreds of graves. Few have flowers.

We trooped back to the car and headed to Hershey. We decided to go a different route than what I had written down in my handy-dandy Moleskine (everyone needs one – I'm serious), and I got a tad lost for the first time since we started the trip. In no time we were back on course. Within two hours we touched our feet on the parking lot in the mecca of chocoholics and the bane of dieters everywhere – Chocolate World.

I wasn't sure whether to regret coming or not when I walked up to the front door and saw monstrosity upon monstrosity. There were happy chocolate bars smiling and hyper kids screaming. It was almost too much to handle. I'm not ready for kids, yet I had become a pro at ignoring them as if I was already a mother.

We first went to what looked to be a simple exhibit on how chocolate was made. In fact, it was something farm more horrible and sinister. It was a ride. We were herded into tea-cup like vehicles and set on a track with music, a narrator, singing cows, factory belts, more screaming children, and songs (sung by cows). It was spectacularly horrific, and I don't think I'll choose to see anything quite like it again. It was a Willy Wonka nightmare.

Escaping from the teacup was the best thing I did all day, and I immediately ran to the gift shop to make my escape. Still, there was little respite to be had there. Children were swarming the shops, apparently on some sort of eighth grade graduation trip. I bought stuff for my family and sat in the cafeteria, eating my questionable pepperoni pizza. I later had an authentic Hershey's chocolate milkshake that tasted like a cocoa powder slush and was strong enough to make me think twice about drinking it. A part of me was relieved when we finally went out to the car, but it made me have fun (somewhere deep dark inside where I never let anyone peek in lest they hang what they see over my head) that the other two enjoyed it so much.

Our drive back was relatively uneventful until we hit some sort of traffic cluster****, and I had to switch out driving with Rachel because I couldn't do it anymore. I really have no idea what time we got back since I was asleep in the backseat with one foot in the back window.

More coming soon!

1 Response to "Day 4: Few Things More American"

Aedh Says:

That is very exciting. Forgive my ignorance, but what exactly is an "artist in residence?"

Also, I'm going to subscribe to you as well. I look forward to the conclusion.

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