New Seminary Ridge Museum at Gettysburg: Worthwhile Exhibit, or Tourist Trap?

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The Lutheran Theological Seminary located on what is now the Gettysburg Battlefield is probably one of the most photographed and recognized buildings of the entire American Civil War. It is also a building made famous by the 1993 movie Gettysburg, which illustrated it’s importance on the first day of fighting, where Union General John Buford walked up to the cupola on top to survey the action, as well as wait for reinforcements from his good friend, General John Reynolds. When Reynolds does arrive, we can see the relief on Buford’s face, as he now knows that his men will be alright. However, as famous as this building is, it has never been open to the public. Even in nearly ten trips to Gettysburg myself, I have only been on the grounds once, which was when I was there last year, and noticed some scaffolding in the front, due to apparent restoration work. But now, according to a recent article in AAA World, titled, “If Walls Could Talk”, this famous landmark is finally going to be open to the public as a museum.

The article was fascinating, as it detailed the importance of the structure, as well as how artifacts they found on site dictated the type of museum it would become. It might actually be the most unique museum in Gettysburg, as there will be space devoted to medical history and nursing, showing off the more grizzly side of war. Also included is a story regarding the building’s founder and his strong abolitionist views, and how a major conflict presented itself when he married a woman who owned slaves herself. To me, that would be a very intriguing tale, which thankfully ended with the couple freeing them from slavery and allowing them to remain as servants, known as indenturing. Admission to this building will be a very fair $9 for adults, with cheaper rates for seniors and children. So wait, am I missing something?

Oh, yes, the famous cupola located on the roof, a piece of architecture that the article mentions people have “waited their entire lives to be able [to go up in]”. After all, wouldn’t any die-hard Civil War buff just kill to stand in the very same, small, enclosed space as Buford did 150 years ago? To be able to recreate the identical view he had, and imagine his elation after seeing Reynolds galloping towards him with his staff? Of course, I know I certainly would. However, there is one tiny difference between the admission price of the museum, and an admission that includes a “timed” ticket to the cupola. The complete package is $29.

And to think, I was enjoying reading that article. Upon seeing that price, I let out a sigh. Out of principle, I cannot even get myself to spend that amount of money to stand on the roof of this building. I’m sorry, but even though I live and breathe history, I cannot give in to this disappointing (but highly unsurprising) injustice. Do you realize that it would cost a family of four, who wanted to get the whole experience, more than $100? And notice how the visit up there is timed, so you have what, maybe ten or fifteen minutes? That’s all you really needed anyway, so why then must we charge the visitor $2 per minute to be able to stand and take pictures? I understand that these museums need to make money, working at one myself, but the $29 just screams tourist trap—it screams scam.

This museum will appropriately be opening on July 1st, and you can be assured there will be a line out the door. The article also suggested that you make reservations in order to have the opportunity to spend your $29 on the cupola.  

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