Gettysburg prepares for tourist spike during 150th anniversary
April 29, 2013 8:00 AM
Bradley C. Bower/Post-Gazette
A tour group of visitors gathers at Oak Ridge, the site of the Eternal Light Peace memorial, where Confererate Maj. Robert Rhodes' division stepped off to attack Union forces. The town of Gettysburg is in the background.
By Tom Barnes Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- Norris Flowers and Bob Kirby have a right to be nervous.
As two of the principals planning the 150th anniversary of one of the most important events in American history -- the Civil War battle fought in July 1863 outside this town -- they've been working for more than three years to develop programs and attractions expected to draw 4 million visitors and spenders this summer.
That job has been hectic enough, but then two weeks ago came the bombings in Boston.
Security for visitors has always been a priority for the event planners but now is even more so, with new meetings with police agencies and the public coming up, said Mr. Flowers, president of the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The April 15 backpack bombs at the Boston Marathon, which killed three people and injured many others, "have raised the level of our discussions about safety," he said. "The Boston situation has definitely heightened conversations about security in the last 10 days or so."
The 150th anniversary celebration will feature several hundred events, the majority coming June 28 to July 7. "This is a Gettysburg legacy event, our Olympic moment," Mr. Flowers said, and he wants it to increase the number of tourists and their dollars both for 2013 and for the next several years.
The projection of 4 million visitors for this year is about 1 million more than in an average year, and the $750 million they will spend on food, lodging, tickets, gifts and other things exceeds the $630 million spent in a normal year. But for crowds to have a good time this year and keep coming in the future, they must feel safe, he said.
Mr. Kirby, superintendent of the Gettysburg National Military Park, which includes the visitors center and museum and many battlegrounds of the July 1-3, 1863, North-South struggle, said park workers are trying "to stay ahead of the curve."
Everyone has received active shooter training, meaning knowing what to do if someone tries to bring a gun or other weapon into the park's visitors center/museum. Visitors are already prohibited from bringing backpacks into the center.
Also, park rangers have had training in combatting weapons of mass destruction, such as bombs and IEDs, explosive devices often tossed by terrorists on the ground, which have killed and injured U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Another step is forming incident management teams to handle any security issues that could develop outdoors, on the battlefields that will be filled with visitors this summer, he said.
Local residents will also get involved in safety measures. Mr. Flowers said a public meeting has been set for May 29, sponsored by state police working with Gettysburg and Cumberland Township police and the Adams County emergency medical service.
"We want to educate the community to be more watchful, diligent and cautious" as events begin in May, he said.
"We want to teach citizens what to look out for," such as suspicious people, possessions, activity or behavior, he added. The two Boston terrorists left backpacks containing pressure-cooker bombs on sidewalks amid the marathon crowds, shortly before the devices exploded.
Mr. Flowers doesn't think the Boston tragedy will keep people from coming to Gettysburg this summer. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime event. You only celebrate the battle's 150th anniversary once."
Others involved in the celebration include the Gettysburg Foundation, a nonprofit group that works with the National Park Service; Gettysburg College; Main Street Gettysburg, a group of businesses; and the new Seminary Ridge Museum, which opens July 1 on a ridge where much of the first-day fighting occurred.
Other major events include:
• May 24, opening of a Civil War field hospital site on the George Spangler farm, the scene of much of the fighting.
• June 16, Treasures of the Civil War, an exhibit of personal possessions from leaders on both sides.
• June 29, commemoration of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, which opened in 1938 to mark the battle's 75th anniversary.
• June 30, an evening ceremony outdoors, near Gen. George Meade's headquarters, with a candlelight procession to the Soldiers National Cemetery, with graves of 3,500 northern soldiers killed in the battle.
• July 4-7, battle re-enactments, with 10,000 re-enactors; the famous Pickett's Charge, which led to the Confederate defeat and ultimate retreat, will be re-enacted July 7.
• Nov. 19, a ceremony to honor the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.