Monday, July 25, 2016

What is Living History?

Gettysburg, although it is considered a small town, is a very active town with plenty of things to see and do.  Visitors come from all over the world to see one of our nation’s most historic national parks.  There are several ways to see the battlefield, and learn about the events that unfolded here in the summer of 1863. 

One of the most interactive and engaging methods is through living history presentations and encampments.  So what exactly is living history? How is history brought to life? Many people may be familiar with places such as Colonial Williamsburg, where paid staff recreates life as it was in the 1700’s. Admission into their ‘town’ allows visitors to see how people lived, worked and went about their daily life.  In essence, this is living history. 

Living history in Gettysburg is a bit different.  There is not a specific place where you go to find living historians.  Many times you’ll see them walking around town, shopping or maybe dining at a local restaurant.  A few museums, such as the Gettysburg Heritage Center, and the National Park Service hosts living history groups during the peak season. The town of Gettysburg does not have paid staff to dress up in Civil War attire.  The men, women and children you find dressed in 1860’s clothing do so as a hobby.  The uniforms and dresses are an investment into their hobby, and are bought by each individual person.  Depending on the uniform or dress, costs can run into hundreds of dollars easily.

One of the biggest misconceptions about living history presentations and presenters is that they recreate battles.  Living historians typically do not engage in ‘battle’ or recreate the fighting that took place during the Civil War.  Instead, most living history groups focus on a specific regiment or unit, and talk to visitors about the history of that group.  Individuals may portray a specific person of the time; many doing extensive research on that one person.  Living history camps are open to visitors, allowing them to talk to the soldiers and civilians about the war, the weapons, the home front, medicine, uniforms and clothing, battle maneuvers, etc.… There are countless topics that you can discuss with presenters.  It is like taking a step back in time, and being able to see first-hand what life was truly like for those who lived during the war. 

The Gettysburg Heritage Center hosts living history groups most weekends, from May through November.  The camps are free and open to the public.  Depending on the weekend, you will find different groups such as Union or Confederate troops, civilians, medical camps and more! Don’t just read about history – experience it! 

For more details about Living History programs at the Gettysburg Heritage Center, visit  Check the events page for the most up to date schedule!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What is the Gettysburg Heritage Center?

I think that it is fitting for the Gettysburg Heritage Center’s first blog to take some time, and explain exactly who ‘we’ are.  I myself have worked for the GHC since it opened for business in August of 2013. Prior to that, the building was the home of the former American Civil War Wax Museum, which I was an employee for 18 years.  Over the years, there have been many changes, and the biggest came in 2014 when we closed the doors for several months, and completely renovated the facility.  It was a major renovation project, and in the end all I can say is… WOW!

Cosmetically, the entire place looks AMAZING! Store facades line the foyer when you walk in, high ceilings, better lighting, marble floors, and the list can go on and on.  More importantly, the museum’s storyline has been completely re-done, and updated making it not only easy to navigate, but much more educational and engaging.

So what is the Gettysburg Heritage Center? The GHC is about the people.  It is about the town of Gettysburg and those who called it home before, during and after the battle.  Upon entering the museum, guests learn about what made the town tick.  A booming carriage industry prior to the war, roads that all converged in the town, a telegraph, numerous businesses, and Gettysburg was the county seat.  Travel further into the museum and learn about the war coming to town.  If you lived in Gettysburg and heard troops were moving toward your home would you stay? Would you leave? Where would you go? This is what the citizens had to face over 150 years ago.  Imagine being put in the position to make a split second decision that could change your life and your family’s life forever.  In the museum’s “Cellar Experience”, guests will get a feel for what it was like for those who chose to stay in town. To have the enemy invade your home, and not knowing what was happening around you.   The focus of the tour then shifts toward the dead and the wounded, and how the town came together to rebuild, and move on. The daunting task of cleaning up after the battle took months.  The wounded were cared for, and the dead buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, and the towns people pushed on and continued on with lives, forever changed by those three days in July.  The tour concludes with a 20 minute presentation of “Gettysburg: An Animated Map,” produced by the Civil War Trust.  It is a great overview of the battle, providing maps and troop movement, making the battle easy to understand.  It’s the perfect place to start before going out to explore the battlefield.

As you maneuver your way through the museum exhibits, you’ll find the story comes to life in a variety of ways.  Since people learn differently, the story is told in various platforms.  There are panels to read, artifacts to look at, interactive displays, movie presentations, even 3-D programs! The variety allows each visitor to become engaged in a way that is comfortable for them!  Every member of the family, young or old, male or female, are able to gain a better understanding of life in Gettysburg in the 1860’s.

Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that located in the lobby of the GHC is one of the nicest and largest gift shops in Gettysburg! The selection is great – there is a little bit of everything - apparel, books, children’s games and toys, collectibles, home d├ęcor, replica weapons, souvenirs and gifts! It’s a must stop shop when you’re visiting!

The next time you’re in Gettysburg, stop by and see all that we have to offer! You’ll be glad you did! In the meantime, be sure to visit our website at, and check us out on facebook at Gettysburg Heritage Center.  We look forward to seeing you!