Friday, November 4, 2011

Pennsylvania Getaway - Hershey, Gettysburg, Flight 93 Memorial/Shanksville

The Mountains in Western Pennsylvania

What an amazing country?  We have been blessed with a wide variety of landscapes, climates and cultures.  There is so much to do in the United States it would take a literal lifetime to see everything the nation has to offer.  I enjoy traveling internationally, but the last couple of years I have spent my time on the road visiting domestic locations and it has been enjoyable on every level.  As an adult, we are limited with learning experiences; and travel is one of the few ways we can continue to learn and be educated. 

I recently returned from a wonderful short-haul jaunt to the stunningly beautiful state of Pennsylvania.  Driving through the mountains is a glorious experience.  Witnessing the rolling hills and the millions of trees is exhilarating and inspiring.  The vast terrain of western Pennsylvania is stunning at any time of year.  My only prior visit to Pennsylvania was to see the many historical landmarks in Philadelphia, but Pennsylvania has so much to offer even beyond our American Revolutionary heritage (which would be enough).  

Heading eastbound we stopped at the Flight 93 Memorial outside of Shanksville.  The Memorial area is now part of the National Park Service and it is overwhelming in its scope of sadness. There are some impressive monuments to each of the passengers and there is an excellent timeline of the flight's activity from takeoff to its crash.  To call some of the men on this flight heroic is beyond an understatement.  Almost everything that could be said about the events of September 11, 2001 has been said, so the memorial in the field is worth a visit.  Most rational people will shed a tear when confronted with the reality of the madness that took place in that former stripped down coal mining area.  The irony is, of course, that it is in a tranquil and peaceful open space surrounded by hundreds of God's gorgeous trees. 

Hershey Company Factory  
On to Hershey, Pennsylvania.  This has been on the bucket list for many years.  I love chocolate and the Hershey bar with almonds ranks way up there in the world of my food choices (health reasons never being considered).  Milton Hershey was one of the most magnificent men of the 20th century.  He may very well be one of our country's most underrated human beings.  He had a dream of assisting underprivileged children.  When he died in 1945 he left a 60 million dollar trust fund. Today, it is valued at 6 billion dollars.  Children from all over the country come to Hershey for their education.  So, every time you purchase a Hershey, Reese's Cup, Twizzler, Kit Kat, Jolly Rancher or one of the company's other candy creations know that the money from that purchase will benefit children that need a leg up.  Smart and good kids get helped!  Eat more chocolate from the Hershey Company.

Hershey's Chocolate World is quite fun, but ultimately, it is mostly a store.  Want a Reese's Cup t-shirt (I did)? Well, it's here.  Desire some ice cream bowls featuring the Hershey Bar with Almonds? It's here. Want a Twizzler pillow?  It's here.  There is a simulated ride taking you through a fake factory.  The Hershey company used to offer tours of their real factory, but they stopped for safety reasons.  I don't blame them.  The fake tour is just fine.

The real Hershey factory is right down the street.  Thousands are employed at this iconic corporation and by all accounts, Hershey is a superb employer. The streets around the factory are lined with Hershey Kiss street lamps. The street names should be easy to guess - Chocolate Avenue, Cocoa Drive.  I love this place! I must say though that I expected even more.  As a Marketer, I have to admit, they should do more in this town.  Add more chocolate themed attractions.  By the way, there is a theme park, but it's not that big and it is kid-centric (of course).  

The Hershey Hotel is a stunning old property that is clean and well worth its price tag.  You get free candy bars upon check-in and the service on all fronts is outstanding.  It's a lovely property with a fantastic hiking trail! On the hotel property is the famed Hershey Gardens.  I spent three hours just walking around the magnificent gardens.  Dozens of Rose varieties, including the Dick Clark Rose.  Who knew? I stopped and smelled almost everyone of them. Glorious! The kids garden, the tributes, the paths, the trees.  It's all spectacular!

The Hotel Hershey

We drove 20 minutes to visit the National Civil War museum in Harrisburg.  It is a part of the Smithsonian, so that alone will let you know that this is an all encompassing experience.  It was a rainy day and we spent hours in the museum.  The items included run the gamut from weapons to clothing to various papers and assorted other historical documents.  There are great photographs and some contemporary historical documentary style videos. It's a beautifully designed venue and I'm not quite sure why it ended up such a distance from Gettysburg, but it is where it is. Based on the location it should have been placed closer to the Gettysburg site.     

National Civil War Museum

Working back westward through Pennsylvania was the stop at Gettysburg.  If you are a Civil War buff you could literally spend a couple of weeks here.  There are hundreds of monuments representing individuals, states and various groups from the era.  The extensive battlefield location is mind altering and you can transport yourself back to the three days the infamous battle took place.  The on-site facility has a museum and it is in possession of the artistic Gettysburg Cyclorama. The Cyclorama is worth a trip to the area.  Doing a self tour is pointless unless you are an expert.  Various options are available to the visitor, but we opted to hire a Gettysburg authority.  It was only a $65.00 cost for our car and our historian was a man named John Krepps.  Krepps knew it all.  We had an outstanding two and a half hour tour and he made wise selections for the tour. We never could have accomplished what we did without his guidance and knowledge.  Go to for information.

We learned a great deal.  I thought I knew quite a bit about the Civil War, but it was an overwhelming learning experience.  Another highlight was the town of Gettysburg which includes the home of Jenny Wade. Wade was the only civilian killed during the Gettysburg campaign. Imagine, during all of this mayhem only one civilian was killed?   

Jenny Wade House

Even if you are not a Civil War buff, you will appreciate this experience.  Any critical thinker will find a deep appreciation for this historic site in American history.

When you look out over the fields of Gettysburg you can almost hear the muskets firing. Recently, they completed a ten year restoration project on this significant Civil War battlefield.  They have attempted to make it look as much as it did during the battle in 1863 as possible. They do an annual re-enactment, so check into that if you are a Civl War hound.  Also, 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the battle, so there will be much more to see, do and hear.    

The overall trip was exceptional on all levels.  On the surface one would not necessarily think Hershey and Gettysburg as a twofer, but both locations were on the life's list of things to do. 

Virginia Monument

Departing out of the Chicagoland area --- you will need a full six days, but you could push it and do it in four, but that won't be an easy trek.

Fabulous journey.  Don't miss Gettysburg and try not to miss Hershey. 

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2011

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