Jo Ann Jaacks: Bears and battles in Pennsylvania

Rebecca Bearimore

When I moved back to Connecticut after several decades living in south Florida, I wanted to immerse myself in New England, which is pretty much the polar opposite of the tropics. I appreciated that everything was within a couple hours’ drive through beautiful scenery, coastlines, hills and mountains.

After several weekend getaways to all six states that comprise New England, I decided to branch out to Pennsylvania. I had fond memories of family trips to the Hershey Chocolate factory (this was pre-Hershey Park and Hershey’s Chocolate World) and Lancaster County with horse and buggy rides and Pennsylvania Dutch cooking served family-style on trencher platters at farmhouse tables with benches.

There had also been a long-forgotten trip to Gettysburg so I decided to book a nearby hotel and reprise that childhood non-memory. I did the full court press, beginning with the National Military Park and Museum. Foregoing the private tours, I put the museum CD in my car and drove around the park that is the premier keeper of the flame for Civil War history. It was very solemn except for the occasional kids running around. I took a daytime walking tour of Evergreen Cemetery — same thing, somber except for active youngsters determined to have fun.

I booked the scary night-time tour of the deadly grounds, mostly because it was adults only and I wanted to get into the spirit of what happened here. Our tour guide cautioned us at the outset that many paranormal sightings and sounds had been documented. Once immersed in the dark walking tour, I believe I experienced them all — imagining screams of those stricken and cries for help from those bleeding on the ground. I wanted to leave the open field tour but the guide was the only one with a flashlight and I have poor night vision.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought from July 1 to July 3, 1863 and is considered the most important engagement of the American Civil War. There were thousands of casualties and President Abraham Lincoln had no idea that the short (two minutes) speech he made at the dedication cemetery would be so enduring. I’m glad I saw it; I wish I could forget it, but those screams and cries on a bloody, deadly ground are not so easily purged from memory.

I stumbled back to the hotel room and booked a nearby Bed & Breakfast for the remainder of my stay.

The hostess was welcoming, chatty and charming. The first thing I noticed was a floor-to-ceiling display case containing what appeared to be children’s stuffed animals and small animal statues. The larger stuffed animals were wonderfully dressed in velvet and floral hats. When I walked into the common room which featured a television and bookshelves, the sheer number of glass display cases containing hundreds of stuffed animals and charming figurines including drummer boys, angels, clowns, statue of liberty, school grad, Mother bear and Baby bear, etc.

My hostess said she had worked many years for the popular line of collectibles. She directed me to Boyd’s Bears Country Store, an impressive former barn with silo still attached and five levels of shopping in downtown Gettysburg. The next morning, I began my collection of stuffed and stationary bear collectibles and I returned home happy, energized, and on a mission. I was thrilled when I moved to Litchfield and soon found a nearly secret cache of new Boyd’s Bear collectibles in Morris. I am forever grateful to Marge Munson, may she rest in peace, for sharing my mania and lovely chats about all things beautiful.

Connecticut Media Group