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Nearing The Journey's End
Lincoln Highway Part 17, October 27, 2009
David McLane (davemclane)     Print Article 
Published 2009-10-28 10:14 (KST)   
This article is seventeenth in a series of reports that documents life in small towns along four major highways in the United States during these hard times. It is NOT a survey but an attempt to come a fuller understanding of the land and the people that are typically under-represented by mainstream media. You can find the author's previous article here.  <Editor's Note>
Heading east towards Gettysburg, we came to Mr. Ed's Elephant Museum which is set off from the highway but can't be missed as there's a good sized elephant in the garden.

Mr. Ed's Elephant Museum, Orrtanna, Pa.
©2009 D. McLane

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uld also be called Mr. Ed's Candy Store, as many kinds take up most of the space in the first two rooms. More than 10,000 elephants are in side rooms. While some people were looking at the elephants -- big ones, small ones, metal ones, glass ones -- they seemed more interested in the candy. Mr. Ed (Ed Gotwalt) wasn't around, and we couldn't strike up a conversation with the staff behind the counter.

ALTHOUGH I MUST HAVE LEARNED ABOUT THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG in school, the fact that it took place over three days and that more men fell there than in any other battle in North America before or since, didn't sink in.

There was an information center as we came into town, but parking was limited so we continued on to where the Confederate commander Robert E. Lee, had established his headquarters on July 1, 1893. Curiously, both the United States and Confederate flags were flying.

General Robert E. Lee's Headquarters, Gettysburg, Pa.
©2009 D. McLane

On duty that day was Kass Rider who provided us with the National Park Service map of the battlegrounds which surround the town of Gettysburg and a street map of the town itself.

©2009 D. McLane

Kass said that at the time of the battle Mrs. Mary Thompson was living in the house and wasn't all that happy about having her house occupied by a "Rebel" but found Lee a gentleman although some of his staff were not. The house was chosen as it was near the center of the Confederate line and because its thick stone walls offered protection. The house was opened to the public in 1922 to display artifacts and relics found on the battlefield and brought back to town by visiting veterans.

When I asked Kass how things were going during the recession, she said, "The same number of people are coming but not spending so much, not like they used to."

Gettysburg Address Marker, Gettysburg, Pa.
©2009 D. McLane
AS WE HEADED OFF THROUGH THE TOWN to the visitor center we realized that to gain some real information about the three battles that had taken place would take a couple of days. And given the number of cars in the visitor center parking lot, and the number of people streaming towards the main building, even that would take more time than we wanted to spend. So by looking at the map, we figured out how we could get to what, for us, was the main event, the place where Lincoln had stood when he gave his Gettysburg address. It was well marked, had a good sized parking lot where we could fit our van and trailer, and only a few people.

The place where Lincoln had stood on November 19, 1863 has a curved wall behind it and a plaque but they were all in shade so I didn't shoot a photo.

More impressive was the Soldier's National Monument, a column with four allegorical figures as the bottom -- War, History, Peace, and Plenty --- and the figure of the Genius of Liberty at the top looking out across two semi-circles of graves holding some of the 51,000 men who lost their lives here.

Soldier's National Monument, Soldier's National Cemetary, Gettysburg, Pa.
©2009 D. McLane

To be noted is that only Union soldiers are buried here after they were removed from various grave sites that covered the battlefield. Much later, Confederate soldiers were removed to cemeteries in the south. In round numbers there were about 25,000 of each.

While the soldiers were separated in death, Lincoln's two-minute "few appropriate remarks" -- now considered his most famous speech -- didn't separate them as he referred to them as "brave men, both living and dead. who struggled here."
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Scattered among the various other monuments are stanzas from Theodore O'Hara's 1847 poem, The Bivouac of the Dead.

Stanza from "The Bivouac of the Dead"
©2009 D. McLane

When I wrote the above, I had access to the Internet and found a paragraph on Wikipedia that shows the immensity of the event: "The battlefield is currently administered by the National Park Service as the Gettysburg National Military Park. In addition to maintaining the 6,000 acres (2,400 ha) of park lands, 30 miles (50 km) of roads, and over 1,400 monuments and markers, and welcoming 2 million visitors annually, the NPS runs a Visitor Center and an attraction known as the Gettysburg Cyclorama, an enormous 360째 painting of the battle completed in 1884 by French artist Paul Philippoteaux."

NOT SO FAR TO THE EAST was a train station in New Oxford which looked interesting. Signboards say Lincoln used the line to travel to Gettysburg to give his famous address when it was owned by the Gettysburg Railroad. The line was acquired by the Western Maryland Railroad which built the station in 1892. The station was transferred to the Borough of New Oxford and is currently leased by the Conewago Valley Model Railroad Club.

Railroad station,New Oxford, Pa.
©2009 D. McLane

FURTHER EAST WAS LANCASTER WHERE PEOPLE HAD BEEN TELLING US THE PENNSYLVANNIA DUTCH LIVED, but we drove through the city and didn셳 see any. However, further along we came on Zook's Family Crafts, also known as The Hex Place which had a variety of hex signs on display. When we asked about the Amish they said they weren't in Lancaster city but in the surrounding Lancaster county. Oops.

The story behind the hex signs is that groups of refugees from Germany migrated to eastern Pennsylvannia more than 300 years ago. Amish and Mennonites -- people of "plain dress" -- were included and over time came to be known as "Pennsylvania Dutch." Naturally enough, these people brought their old world customs such as large, colorful, geometric patterns that were used as decorations. These symbols are now called hex signs and have names and meanings.

Early hex signs were painstakingly hand painted directly on walls, doors, books and other things. More than 50 years ago Jacob Zook, an 11th generation Dutchman, began to reproduce the signs using the silk screen process which lends itself to bright, solid colors. They come in various sizes from 8 - 24 inches in diameter (20 - 60 cm).

Of all the signs on display, the 24 inch Bird of Paradise Wilkom, which welcomes one and all, stood out from the others. The bird symbolizes the beauty, wonder and mystery of life, the heart adds a measure of love

Bird of Paradise "Wilkom," Paradise, Pa.
©2009 D. McLane

WE CAMPED THE NEXT NIGHT AT THE WAL-MART IN PARKESBURG, which is just before the Lincoln Highway (US?30) becomes a four-lane divided highway through Philadelphia and on to Trenton, New Jersey.

Although guide books like "Lincoln Highway Companion" show a feeder route from Gettysburg through Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia, we'd already decided against it as we would be passing through that area in the transition from the Lincoln Highway section to the US?60 section of the Small Town America project.

In any case, what was interesting about the Parkesburg Wall-Mart is that it had a covered area for Amish buggies. We didn't know what it was for until an obviously Amish man came by our rig, headed over to the covered parking area and went into Wal-Mart. I grabbed my camera and went over to that side of the parking lot and waited.

Another buggy showed up, this time a mother with two small children, parked, and went inside.

Both the man and the woman came out at almost the same time, loaded their buggy and trotted off. The woman took longer as she had more to load and one of her sons helped while the other sat in the shopping cart.

Amish mother and two children, Wal-Mart, Parkesburg, Pa.
©2009 D. McLane

THINGS BEGAN TO CHANGE AS WE APPROACHED PHILADELPHIA. First the number of potholes increased, along with the traffic. Second, people began to "road race" meaning tailgating, weaving between lanes, and closing the gaps between vehicles in order to be the first to get to the next light.

I left the east coast and went to Los Angeles in the late '50s when the current freeways were being built. Research conducted at that time showed that if traffic kept moving -- no matter how slowly -- roadway throughput increased over stop-starting. Thus the on-ramps, off-ramps, and connectors were made such that you barely had to slow down until you were fully off or fully on the main stream.

Further, people were invited to increase their defensive driving skills -- which amounted to becoming aware of how much space you had in front, in back, and on either side -- so you could deal with the occasional mishap. By the time I left 10 years later, things had changed dramatically and have more or less continued to this day where traffic feels like you part of a school of fish or a flock of birds all instead of impromptu road race.

In my opinion, the change came because of two main factors. First, the speed limit in California became whatever was "reasonable and prudent and in no event ... a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property." Thus, it wasn't unusual to drive close to 100 mph (160 kph). But as traffic began to build up -- especially commuter traffic as L.A. began to spread out -- there would be 50-, 60, even 100-car crashes with numerous fatalities. Second, there was space to build freeways with wide shoulders and gentle curves.

In any case, there we were trying to follow the Lincoln Highway through Philadelphia pulling a trailer so we could see the original Declaration of Independence at Independence Hall. We gave up, and headed for Trenton, N.J. We got to Trenton, but couldn't find the Lincoln Highway and gave that up as there really weren't any small towns, just one long strip town where the towns were on the map but simply all ran together with no sense of place from one to the other.

Further, not only were the roads and road racing getting increasingly worse, "No Turn" intersections started to appear. I'd never seen a No Turn but finally realized that before you got to such an intersection there was an -- unmarked -- little road that tried to function as an off ramp. You took that and could then turn right or, if you were lucky, turn left to go back through the intersection.

However, some times there was a "No Left Turn" sign at the end of the would-be off ramp and you could only turn right, drive along and look for a place to turn around -- no so easy when you're pulling a trailer -- and then go back through the intersection.

Worst of all, if you'd seen something of interest on the other side of the No-Turn main road, and you started back across the intersection, sometimes there was a "No Left Turn" sign which mean you had to continue on, find a place to turn around, and come back to the intersection and turn right. If the something-of-interest was on the same side, you might have to do all of the above twice.

OUR PLAN WAS TO DO OUR BEST TO GET A PICTURE of our trailer and van in, or at least very near, Times Square in New York City. We'd been in e-mail contact with Jerry Peppers -- Director for the North East Chapter of the Lincoln Highway Association -- who replied that "There is now street marker with the words 'Lincoln Highway' on the light post on the northwest corner of Broadway and 42nd Street." And added that he thought if we could get a photo of us, the van and the trailer if we were there early early Sunday morning.

Sounded good but it was only Wednesday so we had a few days to kill. The Lincoln Highway goes into Manhattan from Jersey City and we couldn't find any place to camp to we went west to Spruce Run State Park near Clinton and stayed for a few days. Nice place for $20, had hot showers, and we had a view of the reservoir.

Campsite, Spruce Run Recreation Area, Clinton, N.J.
©2009 D. McLane

I will also be posting this story to Open.Salon a few days after it I've sent it to OMNI and will then send a newsalert containing links to both websites to my mailing list.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David McLane

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