Monday, October 19, 2009

A Summer in Retrospect

The March. Pictured left to right: Intern Rich Smith, Ranger Scott Hartwig, Ranger Glenn Knight, me (in my Berdan Green uniform), Ranger Matt Atkinson, Ranger Bob Hall, Ranger Dan Welch, Intern Kristen Campbell, and Intern Chris Brusatte. What a company!

The summer season of 2009 will be one which I will never forget. My three months living on the Gettysburg Battlefield offered new challenges and adventures every day. The events of the summer had so many positive impacts that I know I won't be able to recount them all.

I did not only learn more about the Battle of Gettysburg and American History on a daily basis, but I learned how to be a better presenter, how to more effectively interpret the history of our nation to people of all ages and backgrounds. I had firsthand access to one of the finest collections of Civil War books, records, photos, and primary resources in the country. Through this bounty of historical material, I was able to conduct further research for my programs and even discovered more about my own ancestors who fought in that war.

On one of my first days working the front desk at the visitor center, a middle-aged family man approached me at the desk. He was from New Hampshire. He told me he believed he had an ancestor who died in the battle and was buried there, but was never sure if it was anything more than family legend. "What was his name," I asked him. After he told me, I pulled out one of the mammoth record books kept behind the desks to search for the soldier's name. I found it. The man almost fell over. I then pulled out a map of the National Cemtery and showed him where his long lost ancestor was buried. The man was ecstatic. He told me he was going to rush back to his camper and tell his eighty-eight year old grandmother (confined to a wheelchair) and tell her he finally found her great, great uncle. Inside, I was equally enthused. I felt good. I made a difference to a man and his family. It was moments like that which really made the summer worthwhile.

I experienced an equally gratifying moment one July day when I was informally talking with visitors at the Copse of Trees near the Angle. A family of five told me it was their first time to the battlefield. They wanted to know all about the monuments along the stonewall. When I reached the 20th Massachusetts Monument, I told them the touching story of its origins. Atop the monument's rather short pedestal sits a massive pudding stone rock weighing several tons. It once sat in a town park where many of the soldiers in that regiment played in their youth. It came to represent the same youth lost in the great battle. "The rock was taken from a park in West Tisbury, Massachusetts," I noted. The family gave a collective gasp. "We are from West Tisbury," the father shook his head in amazement. For that family, they were able to make a connection to the Gettysburg Battlefield which may not have otherwise happened.

If there is one thing I learned over the summer, it was that the place represents different things to different people. A grown man, a first time visitor, began to openly weep in front of me and his own family after I had described what had occurred in the lush fields before us. To a child on one of the children programs I helped with came a desire to learn more, a youthful exuberance to explore and appreciate. The stories go on and on.

During the first weeks of training, Supervisory Historian Scott Hartwig led us interns and new rangers on a three mile hike from the Slyder Farm at the base of Big Round Top, up Little Round Top, up Cemetery Ridge, and back to the visitor center...all in period Civil War gear. A half dozen photos with tourists and several miles later, we feasted heartily at the visitor center that evening. Our feet were killing us, but hey, we got one good glimpse into Civil War life. That's what we were out to do.

Filmmaker Ken Burns, the illustrious James Jones, and myself.

I also had the opportunity to meet countless historians and public figures in addition to conversing with thousands of visitors. I met nationally renowned historians like Bill Frassanitto, Gabor Boritt, and Drew Faust, filmmakers Ken Burns and Ron Maxwell, and even actor James Earl Jones! Not to mention all the great people with the National Park Service, Gettysburg Foundation, and Licensed Battlefield Guides. And those are just to name a few!

I kept a daily journal of my adventures and misadventures throughout Gettysburg. And there are some very colorful stories indeed. Each visitor has a story to share. Perhaps I will write a book...

This will be my final full posting on Interning Learning, for I have finally run out of material to share from the summer. A new, but similar blog will be initiated in the coming days. Stay tuned.

My summer in Gettysburg was unforgettable. As I said earlier, it was something which cannot be fully recounted in one article. If anything, the summer gave me an even finer appreciation of Gettysburg's rich history and the incredible events which have taken place there. Thank you to all who shared an interest and passion in my spectacular summer.

Chris, Rich, and I pose for the photo of the summer. Taken at the Victorian Photo Studio in Gettysburg by Del Hilbert.

1 comment:

  1. What a terrific time you had and experiences few of us will encounter. Congratulations and continued success.