The small unknown town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was transformed into one of the most well-known towns in the country, after three days of ferocious and bloody fighting in July of 1863. During that time, an approximate 51,000 soldiers would be either wounded or killed, before the Confederate army retreated south through Maryland while the Union army chased after them. But many have seen evidence that some of these soldiers did not leave after all. It is expected that an old town would be haunted, furthermore, with so many dead and dying people laying in the surrounding fields and streets. The passion exerted by both sides during the heat of battle is the perfect set-up for a haunted city. But unfortunately, the town of Gettysburg has blown it out of proportion, sparking different available ghost tours at almost every gift shop in town–there must be at least twenty to choose from.
Each tour comes built up with drama and commercialization, and with an experienced, period-dressed guide that will walk you through a section of the town of your choice. Many take place right on the main street in town, Steinwehr Avenue, but many venture closer into the battlefield on Seminary Ridge. Also take note that you will never seen one price listed anywhere, for the cost of this little walk. After doing some research, many cost around $10 after tax, which is not all too bad, but if you have a family with children (because all kids love ghosts), then the money can soar.
In the nine years I have been coming to Gettysburg, I have been tempted time and time again to go on one of these, but I still have not. I see it as a sort of disrespect to the soldiers who gave their lives here almost 150 years ago. In just a few years, Gettysburg has gone from a historic Civil War town to a tourist trap, and the ghost tours located all over town prove that.
In talking to people who have went on these tours, not one has ever seen anything pointed out by the guide. Jeff Huber, who went with his niece Karli, saw something only once, and that was when the guide had her back to where he was looking. These tours have too many people with them, and when you have a group of loud-talking, camera-shooting, bumbling tourists, no ghosts will come out. It’s fascinating how they advertise these tours, but still I will not participate.
In the early 1990’s, Mark Nesbitt published Ghosts of Gettysburg, which started out as only a minor publication. But that has since sparked the ghost-mania in this sleepy town, and of course, five sequels to his original book. Many of the tours use his investigations as the basis for what they present to customers. These can be trusted more than the others because he at least has some shred of credibility.
But the one thing that Jeff noted which was worst of all, is the fact that if only one person sees something, whether in a tour or on their own, these ghost tours will make it a part of their talk for tours to come. This information, which has been uncorroborated and could have been made up out of thin air, then becomes the driving force for the next tour. This is exactly not how to conduct paranormal research work, but I would expect nothing less of the tourist trap Gettysburg has become.
Now we move onto Sachs bridge, the place that Jeff and I said we were going to investigate. We made it out there at about two o’clock in the morning, only to find more than we bargained for. “More” as in people, lots of people. It seems that Sachs bridge is the new hangout spot in town, and everyone from teenagers to adults were walking around, taking pictures, smoking cigarettes, and eating McDonald’s, because of all the fast food wrappers tossed on the ground. If this is how it is every night, than you can be sure no ghost will ever again be spotted there. By my count, there must have been thirty people wandering all over the place, ruining any chance at all of seeing a ghost.
The bridge arose to prominence after numerous ghost sightings in photographs, which can be found online. It was used the day after the battle when Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army retreated, and crossed over, and there was even a small skirmish at the base of the bridge as the Union army tried to slow them down.
Sachs bridge itself is very creepy–there are no lights except for the moon, and there are woods surrounding it which make it only darker. If I were to guess, I would say the best time for an investigation there would be in the winter, when kids are in school and the adults may be turned away from the cold weather. It was an interesting experience to go and see it, but I was disappointed because, quite frankly, I figured we would have the place to ourselves at such a late time.
Also, if you plan on investigating this bridge at odd hours, please beware that the police come there for a look every few hours, as told to us by a local who was there when we went.
I have no doubt that Gettysburg is haunted, and may even be the most haunted place in America, but make no mistake, if you want to find ghosts you will have to do it on your own. Don’t fall into the trap and shell over money to a tour guide. Ghosts are not parlor tricks, and they do not show just because you’re on a tour. Find a quiet spot on the battlefield before closing and do some searching. They are there, and if you look hard enough, you’ll find them…or they’ll find you.
Update (Summer 2013)
Below are additional articles written about ghost tourism in Gettysburg from a more recent trip in 2013.