Millions of people are expected to visit Gettysburg this year for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Local private museum owners and the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau don't dispute the battlefield is the town's biggest draw, and for good reason. Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, with 51,000 casualties, and a turning point in the war.
But, "if you come to Gettysburg and you only hear the story of the battle, you only hear half the story," said Nancie Gudmestad, who owns and operates the Shriver House Museum with her husband, Del.
Many tourists "think the battlefield existed only in the beautiful (Gettysburg National Military) Park around here today," she said. "What they don't realize is they are standing on the battlefield" when they visit the Shriver House Museum and other places in town.
Gudmestad said the Shrivers' house -- where George and Hettie Shriver lived with their daughters, Sadie, 7, and Mollie, 5, in 1863 -- was taken by Confederate soldiers. The soldiers knocked holes through the attic's brick walls to shoot at their enemy. Those holes remain today, as do bullet holes on the outside walls of the house.
Evidence of bloodstains not visible to the naked eye was uncovered on the attic floor by a forensics expert using crime scene investigation techniques in 2006, Gudmestad said. "The bloodstains on the floor prove to us it's the original floors," and confirm the stories she had been telling for years: the Shriver House is an important piece of Gettysburg history.
And it's not alone.
"Those stories of the civilians, Civil War medicine, those stories all exist through the town and the county here," said Carl Whitehill, media relations manager for the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau. "We always encourage people to go beyond the battlefield."
The 150th: "Now, it's here"
Stephanie Lightner grew up in Gettysburg and her father was involved in reenactments since she was a child.
She studied history in college, she loves history, and now she works as the public relations coordinator at the American Civil War Wax Museum.
"Being born and raised in Gettysburg, that's steered my life," she said.
Most people in Gettysburg have been preparing for the 150th anniversary for years, at least in their own minds, Lightner said.
"I've worked here (at the American Civil War Wax Museum) for 18 years, and we've talked about the 150th (anniversary) for 18 years," she said with a smile. "Now, it's here."
Although there are anniversary activities planned year-round, there are special events planned from June 28 through July 7 to commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg.
Lightner said the wax museum includes information on the entire Civil War, and they are bringing in some special exhibits for the anniversary.
One exhibit, with artifacts contributed for use by collector David Loose, features medals and other items given to Civil War soldiers who returned to Gettysburg in 1913 for a reunion at the 50th anniversary of the battle.
"We don't typically handle artifacts," Lightner said, but the collector approached the museum looking for a place to display his collection to commemorate the anniversary. "He thought this would tie in nicely."
One day is not enough
No one knew the Shrivers' story or the history of the house at 309 Baltimore St. until after Gudmestad and her husband bought it in 1996, Nancie Gudmestad said.Back then, the home had been abandoned for decades, and it needed a lot of work, she said.
It was perfect because the price was right.
"That's why we bought it, because we could afford it," she said. "It was a mess. We had no idea the story we would uncover."
It had been a dream to buy a house to recreate civilian life in the 1860s, she said. She and her husband got that idea after moving to Gettysburg from Philadelphia in 1984. They opened a bed and breakfast in town.
They bought the Shriver house planning to fix it up and tell the story of a generic 1860s family.
"As luck would have it," they uncovered an authentic story of a real family, Gudmestad said.
And though they've been giving tours and telling the stories of the Shriver family for more than a dozen years, Gudmestad said they keep learning more.
"Just when we think we can't find out anything new, we do," she said. But no matter how much she learns, she said, she will always have questions. "If I had 10 minutes with Hettie Shriver, I don't know if I could get enough questions out."
Like Gudmestad's endless fascination with the Shriver story, Whitehill said Gettysburg's visitors will find endless education.
"You're never going to learn everything about Gettysburg," Whitehill said. "That's the greatest thing about Gettysburg, you can just keep digging and digging."
And that digging takes more than 24 hours, Lightner said.
"There's plenty to do in Gettysburg," she said. "Most people are learning when they get here it's not just a one-day trip. It's a multiple-day trip.
About the Shriver House Museum
The Shriver House Museum, 309 Baltimore St., Gettysburg, will be open on weekends in March, and daily beginning in April. Groups of 10 or more may arrange for a tour any time. The cost is $8.50 for adults, $6.35 for children ages 5 through 12. Children under 5 are free. The tour takes a half hour and covers all four floors of the house, including the basement, where George Shriver operated Shriver's Saloon. Learn more at www.shriverhouse.org
About the American Civil War Wax Museum
The American Civil War Wax Museum, 297 Steinwehr Ave., Gettysburg, will open to the public March 1. It will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cost is $6.95 for adults, $3.95 for children ages 6 through 18. Children under 5 are free. It takes most people about an hour to go through the museum.
A list of museums in and around Gettysburg is available on the Gettysburg Visitors & Convention Bureau's website, www.gettysburg.travel, by calling 717-334-6274. Here's a map of Gettsyburg museums: