Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gettysburg Ghosts

The air feels different on the east coast.  Not only is it more humid and verdant down there at sea level, but I swear you can taste the history you're breathing.  The air is thick with it; it drips from the trees.  Not that we don't have our share of history in the Rocky Mountain west, mind you,  but it's not as concentrated here in tension and tragedy and portent as the hills and valleys, forests and townships of the original thirteen colonies. In cities like Philadelphia and Boston a tourist can't walk a block where something momentous didn't happen.  There are markers and monuments scattered along the roadways thicker than our prairie tumbleweeds -- and understandably so.  It was in our eastern states that those early years of debate, struggle, and suffering wrung this nation into being.  And you really can feel that when you walk the streets and pathways that were colonial America.

Monument to the
Fighting Irish
in Gettysburg.
I grew up on the east coast and have been to many historic sites.  I've visited Monticello, Mount Vernon, Jamestown, Williamsburg, Charleston harbor, Yorktown, and countless places of note throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, D.C. and Maryland...  And, even as a child I was moved by the drama of the history in those places; I've grown up expecting goosebumps of inspiration and awe at historic tourist destinations.  But, that said, there has been nowhere that has affected me as much as Gettysburg this past week. 

There are ghosts in Gettysburg.

In recent years ghosts have become an industry in Gettysburg -- a fact which begs the question of whether it isn't the power of suggestion that sends tingles down the spines of credit-card bearing tourists.  You should see them all: waiting in line for the nine or ten different walking ghost tours that meet at dusk every night on the curbs of the town; huddling in paid-seats in dark damp cellars listening to ghost stories; wandering past the markers and monuments of the battlefields in the surrounding hills, snapping photos on their digital cameras and then examining them for orbs...  There's no doubt that all the hype fans the ghost hunters' flames. 

But there's a lot to tell about this place that gives reason for haunting.  If you spend enough time in Gettysburg (we were there a week), you can't help but learn (almost by heart) all the tales of human drama and tragedy.  The town was, after all, a Civil War battlefield.   The approximate death toll of the three-day conflict in 1863 was 7,000; the total casualties, over 51,000.  Families hid in the cellars of their homes while Union and Confederate forces shot at each other through the ground floor windows.  Brother met brother, father met son on the battlefield.  Medics scrambled to save the wounded; soldiers and civilians struggled to bury all the dead.   And now, in 2011, Jenny Wade, the only civilian to be killed in the battle, dies hundreds of times a day in the telling and retelling of her sad story.  The woods fairly vibrate with the miniballs that are still found embedded in the many "witness trees" still standing.  The pock-marks of bullet holes on the brick houses silently tell the terror of the soldiers and civilians who heard the sound of them hitting 148 years ago.   Too much happened in Gettysburg for the tales not to live on.

From the top of Devil's Den, looking toward Little Round Top. 10/13/11

But I think more lives on than just the tales.  If you know me, you know I believe in ghosts; I've had to, as they've lived on the fringes of my life for a long time.  I can't say I really understand why they're here, but I know, personally, that they are.  I have no doubt that some manifestations are demonic -- though, thank God, as far as I know, I haven't ever witnessed any that were evil.  We know that saints and angels are permitted by God at times to communicate with us, and the Holy Souls in Purgatory have also been known to "come back" with cautionary tales and pleas for prayer.  But, there are other ghosts, too.  If you watch any one of the slew of ghost programs that are popular today, you 've probably heard of "residual ghosts" -- and that's as good a name as any for them. I think that sometimes, an event or emotion is so powerful that the echo of it lasts through the years -- leaving a "residue".  If you can imagine that time is not lineal, but circular and possibly fluid and waving, you could understand these residual hauntings to be "wrinkles in time."  And, given the highly charged events in Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, it's easy to imagine that time in this place is like a bowl of noodles, criss-crossing the past with the present.  If you're paying attention, and look at the right place at the right time, there's no telling what you might hear, or smell, or see...

There were many strange, thought provoking things that happened to us in Gettysburg, during the rainy (full moon) week my sister, my cousin, and I got to visit.  We had a portable DVD player that kept coming on by itself -- and the channel changed in the middle of a program, though the remote was on the other side of the room, untouched.  My sister took several photos that have amazing, unexplained balls of light in one shot, which are nowhere to be seen in a shot taken immediately after, and at the end of one of my sister's videos, you can hear in the distance the strains of what sounds like band music -- though we were in the middle of nowhere at the time, and heard nothing with our naked ears.   We all felt tingles up our spines when walking through certain areas, and there are a couple of my photos of houses where it looks like faces peer out of the windows... Still, though these experiences were compelling evidence to those of us who were there, skeptics would find numerous ways to explain them away.  No question about it.  And I wouldn't complain if they did, because I'm doubtful of them, too.

But, then there are these photos:

This first one is the original, untouched photo, as seen in my header.  Taken, pointed toward the forest on the back side of Little Round Top, I was aiming only for the beauty of the foliage and the rocks -- but I appear to have happened upon something else...  (Unlike my header, this photo can be clicked to enlarge.)
See him?  Check out the anomoly pointed out by the arrow toward the bottom right of the photo.

Here it is, closer.  The area behind the rocks, where you see the "anomaly" falls back and downward into a gully.  The ghostly image, therefore, is actually further away than it would seem. 

And closer still.  When I first pulled this photo up, my eye was drawn to this guy, and I thought maybe there was a tourist sludging through the muddy woods (it was raining that day) -- but on closer examination, we could see that if this were a tourist, he was missing the bottoms of his legs...  He appears to be standing down there, looking up at me with my camera, arms folded in front of him.  His right leg appears to be bent, as if he were resting it on a rock that we can't see.  His uniform appears to have the long coat and is grey -- or Confederate.  He looks like he has a beard and thinning hair, receding, or with a bald pate, and a broad forehead. 
 Crazy, huh?  If I didn't know better -- If I hadn't taken this picture myself, and downloaded it with my children looking over my shoulder, I'd think it was photo shopped.  But it wasn't. Amazing, isn't he?  Our bearded and balding Confederate soldier.  God rest his soul!


Nina (the sistah) said...

Speaking as one who was THERE, this was sooo totally awesome! I want to go back like now!! Like you said Lisa, if you're just going for the history, forget the ghost, it was awesome! Then ya throw in all the cool little experiences we had! Wow, and I don't even care if nobody believes us...it was a really neat experience! Soooo going back there!

auntie said...

God rest his trouled soul! I too have been to Gettysburg with three of my children many, many years ago. They felt the aura there and I assure you that they were too young to know anything about such things and they got no promptings from mom. They speak of that feeling even now and wish to go back now that they are older and can remember more.

GrandmaK said...

Absolutely riveting post!!! Well done!!! This was an enjoyable read! Cathy

GrandmaK said...

Forgot to mention I have a gift for you at my "house." Cathy

Alexandra said...

Great shots! I need to take the kiddos up to Gettysburg. I think Pa. is very special as well. My family is all from there, closer to Philly. The air does smell differently, especially in the rural areas. I was just telling my husband that the grass smells so sweet in the summer. It's a vivid memory from childhood summer visits to grandparents in Pa. I want to move there when we retire. One of my great uncles(from Pa.) fought in the Civil War - Bull Run here in Va. He survived the war, and we still have his sword.