Ghosts of Gettysburg

I first read the website “Wreaths Across America” a few months ago. There is a quote, “A person dies twice, once when they take their final breaths, and later, the last time their name is spoken.”

So, I spoke aloud the names of Bliss and Ernest, my uncles who served in World War II in America and New Guinea, and of my brother Leonard, who was aide-de-camp to a general. The following day I shared them with a friend and, in turn, listened as she told of her husband and son, both veterans. One might say that we stood and saluted, if only figuratively.

I had seen the four-hour-long movie, “Gettysburg,” at the Bangor Mall, mainly for the portrayal of Joshua Chamberlain of Brunswick,. More recently, I read an article in the latest Smithsonian magazine about the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, with all its horrors. I was half wishing that I had never read it, as it reminded me of the movie I saw about it years ago. But it seems as if we must remember. Perhaps we can somehow keep anything like it from happening again.

The four-day Gettysburg battle should have ended all wars. Stories about ghosts encountered there right to the present day should stop us. One tells of three friends in an elevator which stops on its own at a lower level and when the doors open, occupants see a surgery going on. A doctor beckons for them to come help, but instead, they hasten to close the elevator doors. They felt that anyone who left to help would never return to the present day.

My friend Don had a story. At Little Round Top a soldier from the past greeted him, and then Don’s camera would not respond to take a picture. A professional photographer, he had taken and had published many photographs, but nothing he did would work at that point. As soon as he left that location, he had no problem. He had assumed that the soldier was merely in costume, but changed his mind, ready to believe anything.

At an inn in the vicinity, the owner told us stories as we ate lunch. A female ghost, still waiting for her husband to return from battle, roamed the upstairs hall at night. We had no desire to stay there, unlike many who came for that very reason, to see the ghost.

We heard later that all the National Guard members who are on duty there have their own stories. We visited the area four times, partly because Don had relatives nearby that we would visit first. We went on the battlefield the first time and then read a list of those who served there to find a relative of Don’s who had joined at the age of 14; after that, he would return to the battlefield while I shopped downtown or just talked to store clerks and other customers.

On one trip he bought a replica of an old pistol and talked of melting lead to make bullets, which somehow gave me the creeps as I imagined them exploding when heated. Fortunately, he found he could buy bullets instead.

Byrna Porter Weir was born and grew up in Houlton, where her parents, Ina and Porter, were portrait photographers. She now lives in Rochester, N.Y.  

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