Originally created 09/21/03

Gettysburg, buggy rides and chocolate

GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- A slice of Civil War history. A helping of Amish hospitality. And a factory full of chocolate for dessert.

Traveling through south-central Pennsylvania offers a full-course family meal: from a visit to Gen. Robert E. Lee's bullet-scarred headquarters in Gettysburg, to a meandering buggy ride to see the Amish community and the fall foliage in Lancaster County, to a tour of the sweet facilities at Hersheypark.

Take rustic Route 30, once famed as the Lincoln Highway, to start in Gettysburg, site of the bloodiest battle ever on U.S. soil and home to more monuments per square foot than perhaps any place in the country.

The small Pennsylvania town (pop. 7,490) was the setting of the three-day bloodletting July 1-3, 1863. One hundred forty years later, its battlefields and historic buildings are admirably preserved despite recurring threats of commercial encroachment.

Standing atop Cemetery Ridge or Little Round Top, two key strategic positions of the Union army, the image of blue and gray locked in mortal combat is easily conjured.

The National Cemetery, where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address five months after the battle, pays tribute to the massive casualties - more than 51,000 killed, wounded or captured on both sides.

Most every building in town seems to hold some bit of historical import. On the main square, the Gettysburg Hotel, now a Best Western, dates to the 18th century. Guests over the years included Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The latter used it as his base when retiring from the White House to a Gettysburg farm.

Across the square sits the home of lawyer David Wills, where Lincoln spent the night and put the last touches on the greatest speech in American history.

"Fourscore and seven years ago" was likely read in a second-floor bedroom of the Wills House before it echoed across the cemetery where more than 3,500 Union soldiers were buried.

A block away is the Christ Lutheran Church, an impromptu field hospital during the battle. Nearby sits a gift shop with a past: it was once a doctor's quarters used to hide Union soldiers when the Confederates drove into the town.

A Gettysburg tip: If you're lost, ask anyone in a period costume for help. Clad in Union blue or Confederate gray, they are ready to share their extensive knowledge of the immense battlefield and the town.

Retreat quickly, though, or you might learn more about Confederate Brig. Gen. George Pickett than any human being really needs to know.

Lee's Headquarters houses a small, interesting (and somewhat grisly) museum. Portions of an old barn, complete with 1863 bullet holes, and a Civil War amputation kit - a saw and bandages - are part of the exhibit.

Gettysburg's tacky quotient is mostly limited to T-shirts. "The South Will Rise Again" may be more appropriate for a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert than as a battlefield souvenir. Even the Harley riders in for "Biker Week" passed on this item.

And General Pickett's All-U-Can-Eat Buffet Restaurant - well, its name alone takes the cake for bad taste.

Visits to the National Park Service's park headquarters and the famous Cyclorama, with its huge painting of the battle, are helpful for getting oriented to the ebb and flow of battle.

There are numerous tours, including the "Ghosts of Gettysburg" nighttime walk. And for the do-it-yourself crowd, an easily followed car tour of the area, with a CD or tape for drive-by commentary.

While Gettysburg is history tempered by technology, things are different among the Amish of Lancaster County. There, the strict, old-fashioned lifestyle of the Pennsylvania Dutch coexists with modern life - and very little crossover.

No television. No cars. No fridge.

No fun?

No way.

USA Today recently named the city of Lancaster one of the 10 great places to slow down in a small town. The pace moves s-l-o-w-l-y, and that suits most visitors just fine.

There's time for a leisurely horse-drawn buggy ride through the lush farmland, past a one-room schoolhouse. Or a tour of the local covered bridges. Or shopping - either at the factory outlets, or for a one-of-a-kind quilt, locally made.

At Aaron & Jessica's Buggy Rides, the drivers take visitors out on a 3.5 mile, 30-minute tour of the landscape. Barefoot children scurry about Amish homes, as their parents work the family farm or dairy.

The buggy drivers, all local residents, are quick to answer questions or crack a joke - although the material is decidedly not blue.

"If brown hens lay brown eggs, what do brown cows give?" asked one driver. "Chocolate milk."

Take my buggy, please.

There are many inexpensive family-style restaurants, with meals made from local produce. Area farms advertise homemade relishes or jams, along with what is likely the freshest barbecued chicken available anywhere.

Shoo-fly pie is a local specialty, a concoction featuring molasses and brown sugar. It reportedly earned its name from the flies, drawn by its sugary mix, lured by pies cooling on a windowsill.

It's just 30 miles from the solitude of Lancaster County to the crowds and noise of Hersheypark.

Here's a bit of trivia - perhaps the only bit - linking the disparate sites: the godfather of chocolate, Milton Hershey, was actually a native of Lancaster County before he created "the town built on chocolate."

Clearly, he didn't take a buggy.

The rides at this sprawling theme park are impressive. Try the Great Bear, which whips around (and upside down) at speeds of 60 mph. There's also the sooperdooperLooper, a steel looping roller coaster where riders hit a mere 45 mph around a 57-foot high loop.

Although the park closes between Sept. 27 and Oct. 12, it reopens for three Halloween-themed "Hersheypark in the Dark" weekends, Oct. 17-19, Oct. 24-26 and Oct. 31-Nov. 2. Kids are invited to come in costume and guests can stay till 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 9 p.m. on Sundays.

There are other attractions near the park, including a 72-hole golf course, camping and luxury hotels. Hersheypark Stadium features major musical acts like the Dave Matthews Band and Pearl Jam.

Finish off the trip with a visit to the Hershey's candy factory, an excursion that ends with a tasty freebie: one of the confectioner's trademark chocolates for everyone.

If that's not enough, factory-fresh candy is on sale at the Hershey's store.

If You Go...

GETTING THERE: All three sites are easily accessible by car from several major cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Use U.S. Route 30 to reach Gettysburg and several towns in Lancaster County.

Hersheypark is about three hours from northern New Jersey and 3 1/2 hours from Pittsburgh, via U.S. 76 or U.S. 78.

GETTING AROUND: Gettysburg features several walking tours, while Lancaster County requires a car to get from attraction to attraction. At Hersheypark, park the car and forget about it for the day.

GETTYSBURG: www.gettysburg.com or http://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm, or call the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau at (717) 334-6274.

LANCASTER COUNTY: www.padutch.com, or call (800) 723-8824.

HERSHEYPARK: www.hersheypark.com or (800) HERSHEY. Hershey is closed between Sept. 27 and Oct. 12, but reopens for three Halloween-themed "Hersheypark in the Dark" weekends, Oct. 17-19, Oct. 24-26 and Oct. 31-Nov. 2, with fall hours as follows: Fridays, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Children are invited to come in costume. Special events include a Trick or Treat adventure at Hershey's Chocolate World and a performance of some of Edgar Allan Poe's spooky tales on Oct. 26 at the Hotel Hershey. The Poe performance includes either an afternoon tea with finger sandwiches and dessert at 3 p.m. ($39 adults, $23 for children ages 3 to 8) or a full dinner at 7 p.m. ($96 a person for a three-hour show and meal). Call (717) 534-8800 for more information or reservations on the Poe event.


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