We didn’t set out to see ghosts on our trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. We only wanted to see the historic battlefield, visit some of the Civil War era homes and buildings, and have dinner at the old Dobbin House restaurant, which was built in 1776 and served as part of the Underground Railroad before and during the Civil War.
Even though ghosts were not on our agenda, it seemed that we were most certainly on theirs. It’s not surprising. Gettysburg, the site of the bloodiest battle in the Civil War, is well known for paranormal activity.
On our first day, our battlefield tour took us directly to the site of the carnage. Cannons – not replicas, but actual cannons that were used in battle – are scattered throughout, and it’s a little overwhelming actually touching the very firearms which were used to launch cannonfire against the rebel soldiers. Artifacts like this, according to ghost hunters, can trigger mysterious sights, smells and sounds from the past. The tour guide told a true story of leading a group one day, when he saw a lone soldier in Union gear sitting by a cannon, holding his rifle, and noted that it appeared to be quite authentic. The soldier approached him, handed him a handful of musket balls, and said something to the effect of, “Take these, you might need them later.”
It seems that according to historic reports, soldiers were running low on ammunition, and were always on the lookout for extra musket balls. As the tour leader drew his story to a close, he said that he looked at the musket balls after the soldier walked off without saying another word, and realized that they were the real thing.
A spectral quality hung over the entire city for the duration of our trip, and the sense that many of the dead were still there was palpable. Visiting the Jenny Wade house – the site of the only civilian killing at the Battle of Gettysburg, I touched the door, which is still to this day covered with bullet holes, and one of those bullet holes were from the bullet which killed poor young Jenny, and innocent girl who was just inside baking bread for Union soldiers. Touching the bullet hole – I can only guess that I must have, completely by accident, touched that very hole through which passed the bullet which pierced Jenny’s heart – for a split second, I was there, and I heard the gunfire and shouts in the distance. I smelled the smoke and gunpowder. It was only for a fraction of a second, but that’s all it took to kill this innocent girl.
Although it wasn’t on our agenda, after hearing the stories, and feeling for ourselves just a little of those ghostly echoes, we took the Gettysburg Ghost Tour, a night-time walking tour, led by a guide in period costume and led by candlelight. The tour took us by several of the most important spots of the battle, and when we walked by Cemetery Hill, we lingered for a moment, and once again, I detected the distinct aroma of smoke and gunpowder. But I wasn’t the only one, several members of the group smelled it as well. The guide later told us that the smell of gunpowder was quite common, not just at Cemetery Hill, but throughout Gettysburg.
Back at our hotel, the Wyndham Gettysburg, a wonderfully appointed modern facility, we didn’t think we would see or hear any ghosts there. But in the elevator, on the way up to our floor, it seems that one of the more playful ghosts must have followed us back from Cemetery Hill. In the elevator, both my wife and I heard the distinct and very clear sound of somebody jumping on top of the elevator, and the playful noise seemed to follow us as we walked to our room. We could see nobody there, and it’s unlikely that anybody was actually standing on top of the elevator, but the sound was clear, nonetheless. A ghost had followed us back to our hotel. We had the feeling that the ghost was harmless, maybe a child – and we slept well that night, even though we may have had some invisible company in our room.