Gettysburg becomes well-known for their spirits

Mixed feeling about this, but mostly negative.

Gettysburg anniversary provides booming season for battlefield ghosts – The York Daily Record.

In a town where even the land beneath McDonald’s is believed by more than one ghost tour guide to be tinged with spiritual energy, Gettysburg has managed to build a booming paranormal industry. Over the past few years, paranormal tours have become increasingly popular, with as many as 11 popping up recently.

For the past decade, the number of tourists traversing Gettysburg’s streets and alleys, ghost hunting equipment in hand and cameras at the ready, has steadily increased. So each must find something new to offer sightseers eager for a glimpse of Gettysburg’s more-permanent residents – the ghosts.

Ghostly Images of Gettysburg promises their customers will see phantom historical figures – civilian Jenny Wade, killed by a stray sniper’s bullet during the battle, for example – during theatrical performances in some of their haunted locations.

Despite the variation between each organization’s services, the question that all of the tour guides seem to be getting is whether or not there will be more ghostly activity this year because of the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg.

For a spirit spending eternity in the town of Gettysburg, time might not mean a whole lot. Still, others argue this is a big year for sightings.

The ghost tours in Gettysburg are the second only to the history draw. A yearly paranormal conference is held here, many paranormal groups like to do field trips here. It’s been called a “Mecca” for ghost hunters. Regardless of how many people died, it still makes no sense – their “theories” about natural recordings of emotional energy and storing psychic energy there is utter nonsense (if anyone has good links to these types of pontifications, please send them, I’m interested in it). The good thing is that it does get people interested in history from a different aspect and is obviously good for the town, within reason. The bad is, many of the stories are uncorroborated, and some are plain fabrications, false history. They cheapen the true historical value of the place. Spend an evening in the town with all the ghost tour guides walking around in “authentic garb” or seeing folks running around with e-meters is just silly and makes me feel a bit miffed about the place.

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  3 comments for “Gettysburg becomes well-known for their spirits

  1. One Eyed Jack
    June 28, 2013 at 7:51 PM

    What a shame. Gettysburg a wonderful historical site to visit. It’s shame some people insist on making it into a carnival side show.

  2. spookyparadigm
    June 29, 2013 at 1:24 PM

    1. You mean you’re looking generally for information on the “recordings” model, or specifically for Gettysburg related. I would assume you are familiar with the Stone Tape idea

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_Tape

    which of course takes heavy inspiration from fiction (admittedly good fiction, written by Kneale, who also made the amazing Quatermass and the Pit)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stone_Tape

    2. My father is a civil war fanatic, so I visited Gettysburg nearly annually through my teen years in the 1980s. Me being me, I gravitated towards anything geeky or fortean, so even though I don’t like ghost business, I did take note of it. As far as I can recall, in the late 1980s there had only just begun to be the glimmerings of a ghost industry, in the form of those small-press booklets of ghost stories (every location now has something like this, you know the kind, white back cover with table of contents or a map, sometimes stapled) that were only sold in some of the bookstores. As of around 1990, I don’t remember there being any ghost tours yet, I don’t think. There was a set of the most common ghost stories, the three standouts I remember being the lookout in the cupola at Gettysburg College, the elevator ride in the same building(?) to a civil war hospital in the basement, and the sniper at Devil’s Den that would be mistaken as a re-enactor or guide, and would disappear from photos taken with tourists. These showed up in those booklets, along with others. They were also in an issue of the Civil War fan magazine Blue and Gray, which I suspect did a lot to push the Gettysburg ghost thing.

    Fast forward to 1998, the last year I visited Gettysburg, and there was a growing ghost tourism industry as described above. Which is interesting as the rest of Gettysburg tourism had changed in the opposite manner. A visitor in the 1980s would have had two basic experiences: the park itself (including the visitor’s center) which was serious-minded. And the town, particularly Steinwehr avenue, which was all about 1960s-style roadside Americana kitsch. Wax Museums, lots of places to sell toy guns and other bric-a-brac to children, and other cheesy exhibits as well as civil war themes on the walls of chain fast food places and cheap motels. This stuff had in fact largely been built for the 100th anniversary in the early 1960s, and then given a bit of a boost in 1976 for the bicentennial. This included a massive Space Needle-esque tower, which has since been purchased by the National Parks and removed.

    However, the tourism in 1998 was larger than it had been in the 1980s, and secondly, it was higher-end. There had been Civil War print and art galleries in the 1980s, but those expanded in size and number, as did the Civil War and military history speciality book stores (these also moved more into the center of town, which looked more like a 19th century town than the 1960s style Steinwehr Ave, where much of the ghost tours are headquartered). There were now full-time stores dedicated to authentic costumes for re-enactors and other interested folk willing to spend more significant money (think of historically minded permanent stores otherwise reminiscent to the costume and weapons vendors you see at RenFaires). And you were more likely to see small business owners in civilian period costume, ala a non-organized Williamsburg, something you never would have seen a decade earlier.

    From what I can gather, while some of this change was likely due to more general elements of the 1990s (more disposable income dedicated to leisure, more demand and ability to cater to specialty niches due to the internet and other computing advances, including desktop publishing), much of it is probably due to the success of PBS’ _The Civil War_ documentary series, which remains popular to this day, and probably had a great impact in expanding interest in the Civil War to a wider middle and upper middle class audience outside of the South.

    So at the same time Gettysburg as a tourist spot was gentrifying, the more tacky end of the tourist biz there embraces paranormal tourism. My thought in 1998 when I saw this change was that there was a major gender counterprogramming thing going on. Civil War and military history popular interest has long been stereotyped, and with good reason, as the domain of white middle class middle aged or older men. So the ghost stuff seemed ideal as a sort of “thing for the wives to do” activity, and I definitely saw more woman-led tours and even styling (notice the emphasis on Jenny Wade).

    But now, having visited another place taken over (and less surprisingly) by ghost hunt-style tourism, Salem MA, and having experience with paranormal tourism when I lived in New Orleans, I’m wondering if it isn’t the sort of obvious response by the traditional 20th century style of Roadside Americana to the changes in American leisure that are resulting from changing American class structure. The classic car vacation of the sort which has supported Gettysburg’s tourism since the 1960s at least made perfect sense in the America of the mid-century. Strong working and middle class that had for the first time due to both new wealth and the interstate system, the ability to do “touring” that had once been predominantly the domain of the affluent (this is also the era of the growth of highway-focused chains like McDonald’s and Howard Johnson’s). These families would have still been on a bit of a budget, typically would have had children (especially during the baby boom adolescent years right when Gettysburg takes off with the 100th anniversary), and would not be following family or class traditions of going to specific resort areas necessarily.

    But fast foward 30-40 years, and the class gap has changed things dramatically. The affluent are a lot more affluent, and you see more international travel vs. car vacations. Household size has shrunk by 25%. Tourism also includes more young childless, and retired childless, while the bottom of the middle class has fallen out and less likely to be a dominant force in tourism spending. And there are more packaged places to take children (amusement and theme parks, or “science museums” and museum centers that have been significantly retooled into playgrounds for children that have dinosaurs and push buttons and gift shops) that are usually closer by and can still be all-day activities.

    In this environment, tourism is either going to have to go more expensive and high-end, or it is going to have to go sensational if it is going to stay low-end. And in both cases, if you can tap into an existing subculture market (Civil War buffs, paranormal enthusiasts) you can create a second reliable revenue stream in addition to the usual summer traffic. And hence every city and historical tourist spot now has ghost tours, and we have a number of tourist spots that have successfully become paranormal centers (those already mentioned, also Roswell, and numerous also-rans).

  3. Glenn
    July 2, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    I love Gettysburg and I’ve been there 8-10 times. The “ghost hunters” are a dishonor to the brave who died there. Are you in town to honor the dead and learn some important history? Or are you there to chase shadows and make believe you’re scared? With all the guys who died there, you shouldn’t be able to swing a dead cat and not hit a “ghost”.( My wife and daughter won’t let me interact with the “hunters” anymore. They get embarrassed.)

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