Rockin' around the battlefield

April 27, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

The History Channel has been running, and rerunning, this feature called "10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America," a series that, at least in my opinion, will clearly win a lot of television awards in the category of "Longest Television Show Title Ever."

One of these featured days is Sept. 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam. Fair enough. Another is Sept. 9, 1956, when Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.

I'm not sure how 23,000 casualties would feel about being linked with a hip-swiveling personification of Brylcreem, but I suppose that is not my question to ask.

Antietam, Shay's Rebellion, assassination of President McKinley, Mystic massacre, Elvis, what's the difference?

I suppose you could say that both the Civil War and Elvis were directly responsible for a lot of bad artwork, so maybe that's the link. Elvis definitely had the bigger impact on Mulberry Street, I would figure, home of the longest consecutive number of blocks in which every home has a velvet portrait.


But it's the other way around in Gettysburg, where we ended up for a weekend that - unbeknownst to us - happened to be some kind of Civil War art festival.

A lot of the artists were present, a fact we learned the hard way. In one gallery, we walked into a room with a lone woman standing sentry in the corner.

I was kind of semiadmiring a dark, watery landscape (the kind my grandpa would have called "Moonlight on the Swamp," and not in a positive sense) when the Art Critic in High Heels artilleried up to my side with a blast of "That's the worst one yet. I can't believe you like it, it's sooo dreary and it tries to be forceful but ..."

At which point I was forced to break in with "Ixnay on the acksmay, the artistway is earnay."

Fortunately, she is quick to pick up on these situations and shift gears mid-sentence: "... but - but, ooohhh, now that I LOOK at it more CLOSELY, I can really see the meaning behind it and the skill it must have taken to convey the message."

Of course, when you make a faux pas like that, you have to go overboard in the other direction, so we wound up having to act all interested and stuff, asking questions about her medium and early influences and junk. After about 10 minutes, I finally just collapsed in a heap on the floor, the last of my surviving brain cells having been Rembrandted into submission.

So we figured it would be safer if we just got into the car and drove around for a while, reading the placards from all of the historical events, like General Pickett's Charge, General Pickett's Retreat and General Pickett's Grand Sunday Lunch Buffet.

It can be said that at Gettysburg, the lines between history and commercialism have been blurred.

Pretty much every officer who stepped onto that hallowed ground 143 years ago now has some food item named after him. Every stand has its own version of "Battlefield Fries," but curiously, no one seems to have come up with a dessert named the Longstreet. I may have to copyright that before somebody beats me to it.

Of course, being a Civil War town, you can't swing a cat in Gettysburg without hitting a re-enactor, many of whom looked as if they have not missed a General Pickett Grand Sunday Lunch Buffet in quite some time.

As I read it, most of the Civil War troops were emaciated during the campaign, but this appears to be the one detail of historical accuracy on which re-enactors seem to permit some artistic license. If they catch you carrying an ink pen, or with spectacles that weren't manufactured until 1879, you will be hooted out of your ranks. But if you happen to weigh four score and a buck 80, it's no lead off your Minieball.

We saw one such portly General Lee, who, in all honesty, looked pretty good with his white hair and beard and impressive uniform. But you could have split him in half and made two quite passable General Lees out of him with no shortage of material.

Instinct kicked in, and I rolled down the window, but fortunately Andrea clamped a hand over my mouth before I could yell, "Hey General Lee, want a pizza pie?"

Even with a heavy rain, though, we had a wonderful time in Gettysburg, enjoying the beautiful flowering trees throughout the battlefield and doting on the period architecture. It's quite an interesting and picturesque town and I highly recommend a visit.

We took one final stroll around Lincoln Square before we left. On the balcony of the fascinating Gettysburg Hotel, a band in period dress was performing, and as we got closer, we could hear what the woman was singing.

No lie, it was "Rock Around the Clock." Which, if memory serves, was once covered by Elvis.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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