Courtesy Eastern State Penitentiary
Published April 01, 2017
As one of the original 13 Colonies, Pennsylvania is steeped in history from the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg to Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia to Gettysburg National Military Park, which honors the turning point of the Civil War and the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”
But groups will find much more to keep them intrigued and entertained in the Keystone State. Lovers of all things chocolate can get their daily fix in Hershey as they learn about chocolate-making and enjoy Hersheypark’s thrilling rides.
Natural wonders abound in Lancaster County, with farm tours of century-old Amish communities and local cuisine. In Pennsylvania’s northeastern region two hours north of Pittsburgh, Cook Forest State Park has been ranked as one of the nation’s top 50 state parks by National Geographic Traveler magazine and offers an abundance of high-energy activities.
Gettysburg National Military Park
At Gettysburg National Military Park, groups start at the Museum and Visitor Center. For an excellent overview, the film “A New Birth of Freedom” is sponsored by The History Channel.
The “Cyclorama,” the nation’s largest painting, immerses visitors in the fury of Pickett’s Charge during the third day of the battle. Light and sound effects add to the experience. French artist Paul Philippoteaux painted the masterpiece in 1896. It took more than a year to complete and measures 377 feet in circumference and 42 feet high. A behind-the-scenes program titled “What in the World Is a Cyclorama?” allows time to study the painting and its battle scenes.
Of the museum’s 12 galleries, all but one are based on phrases from the “Gettysburg Address.” Each gallery is organized around the museum’s major themes, such as the Gettysburg Campaign and the causes and consequences of the American Civil War. Readings from battle participants bring the conflict to life in the two “Voices” theaters.
Gettysburg Licensed Guides can join a motorcoach for a two-hour tour or for optional extended tours. A unique way to experience the battlefield is by horseback. The National Riding Stables provides horseback tours of the battlefield alongside historical interpretation. Confederate Trails Horseback Tours rides behind Confederate lines through Gettysburg’s wooded paths and open fields.
“On the battlefield bus tours, guides get groups engaged and out of the motorcoach for interactive experiences that can involve demonstrations or role-playing for a greater understanding of the battle,” said Carl Whitehill, director of communications for Destination Gettysburg.
According to Whitehill, another site worth working into any itinerary is the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, the nation’s first National Cemetery and where Lincoln delivered the “Gettysburg Address.”
In the City of Brotherly Love, the Reading Terminal Market features more than 80 merchants that offer an array of fresh-baked Amish goods, farm-fresh produce, unusual spices, free-range meats, flowers, ethnic foods and more. Like more than 100 years ago, the market still offers something for everyone. Considered by many to be one of the finest public markets in the nation, it’s the city’s most popular tourist destination after the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
The 75-minute Taste of Philly food tour starts at the market’s welcome desk and discloses the history behind Philly’s favorite sandwiches, breakfast foods and snacks. It’s often led by someone seen on the Food Network or the History Channel. Participants sample small bites of several highlighted foods. It’s recommended to go early or stay late and enjoy a meal from the many market businesses. An abbreviated tour is also available for large groups.
Another fascinating tour takes place at the Eastern State Penitentiary, which opened in 1829. Eastern’s seven earliest cellblocks radiate from the surveillance rotunda and may represent the nation’s first modern building. Punishment was based on a Quaker-inspired system of isolation accompanied by labor. In the era when the White House had no running water and was heated with coal-burning stoves, each prisoner had a private cell, central heat, running water, a flush toilet and a skylight.
Among America’s most notorious criminals held here, Al Capone, in 1929, was sentenced to one year. His cell was furnished with antiques and oil paintings, and visitors can peek into that cell. “The Voices of Eastern State” audio tour, features three former wardens and 25 guards and inmates who narrate an eerily intriguing walking tour.
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