Read The Signs!

March 27, 2011

All things considered, I think we are becoming stupider.

Maybe it’s something in the water, or in the food we eat, but as a species, Homo sapiens do not seem to be as sapient as it used to be.

Looking back on the species’ history, that’s saying a lot.

Get this: I live on a little private road off the main road that runs from a four-lane to Gettysburg, Pa. The main road, Steinwehr Ave. or Emmitsburg Road, depending on how long you’ve lived here, is how most tourists get to the Gettysburg National Military Park. That is, of the nearly 2 MILLION people who come to visit the battlefield, a big chunk of them use that road.

Our little road is getting an awful lot of traffic lately. That’s inconvenient, because the road goes half a mile, give or take, and into a cedar thicket.

The point is, for most of the cars and trucks thumping and banging down our road, there is nowhere to go. When this fact dawns on the car occupants, they mostly scowl at us -– as though this were somehow our fault — find a place to turn around, and drive off in a huff.

Let me explain.

My road serves the needs of 20 or so of the most independent individuals on the planet. Truck drivers, factory workers, a taxidermist, teachers, one of whom, Rob, is a Civil War re-enactor, a federal employee, one veterinary student, an attorney and a semi-retired journalist (that would be me.)

Driving down our road is like a visit to Ripley’s. Each section of the road is paved or not paved, according to the whim of the person who owns that section of it. The asphalt in the paved portions varies in width and depth, according to the negotiating skills and wherewithal of the owner.

So, here’s the problem.

On March 7, the state closed the bridge on the Emmitsburg Road, the one that leads to Gettysburg, with plans to demolish it and put up a shiny new bridge, one that’s wider and higher so that when Marsh Creek floods the bridge and its approaches won’t be under water. We all think that would be a pretty good thing.

The contractor put up BIG signs a mile or so in either direction, advertising “Road Closed. Local Traffic Only,” or words to that effect. These signs are painted a subtle orange with black letters, and are quite large.

About a mile later, spaced appropriately, are more signs, similarly garish in color, saying “Road Closed 1500 feet,” then “Road Closed 1000 Feet,” and “Road Closed 500 Feet.”

About 500 feet later, Voila! There are great big orange and black signs and black and white striped barriers. The signs say, you guessed it: Road Closed.”

Behind that are big yellow machines and men in orange vests and bright yellow hard-hats, busily demolishing the old bridge.

Last Saturday, we stood on the bridge for 10 minutes and watched 10 cars drive past all the signs only to stop and the construction, turn around and scoot back the other way, some of them squealing their tires.

About one out of every 10 turns right into our tiny road and drives past the sign that says NO OUTLET and into our little world. Some of these people turn around in our yards, causing all sorts of damage.

Those of us outside at the time wait patiently (well, sort of…) for the inevitable questions.

Car stops. Window rolls down. Is this how we get to Gettysburg?

Take deep breath. Censor first five or six really snarky things I want to say.

“No ma’am. This is a dead-end road. The sign as you turned in said so.”

Why weren’t there any signs telling us the road was closed?

Another deep breath. Censor the one big wisecrack I really, really wanted to say, one involving several old Anglo-Saxon terms.

“There were, ma’am. About a half dozen of them over that mile and a half stretch.”

Well, we didn’t see them.

“I sorta figured that, ma’am.”

A sour look pinches her face as the window rolls back up. The high-end SUV trundles and squeaks back down the road.

So, it’s early spring. The tourists season starts in earnest on Memorial Day.

It’s going to be a loooonnnnngg summer. Maybe we can get Rob to kit himself out in his soldier regalia and stand guard by the No Outlet sign. He could bayonet anybody with out-of-state plates who drove past the sign.

© 2011 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:


Note: A slightly different version of this column appeared on TWB


Picture this:

The scene was an auditorium at the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center and Museum. The room had seating for about 200 people, and it was about three-quarters full.

Well, except for the two rows of seats reserved for the media.

A stringer for the local paper was there, at least.

I was there on behalf of The Public Opinion, located 30 miles west, on the other side of South Mountain. They are kind of far off, but it seems they have a taste for history, and stories don’t necessarily have to involve gunfire or sex for them to spend a reporter on them.

That was it. No other media showed up.


I’ll wager that if the figure behind the podium had been Justin Bieber, the place would have been jammed with news crews.

No offense to Mr. Bieber. He seems a very nice young man. But, as we used to say back home, he ain’t nobody much. I doubt we will be talking about him 40 years after his death.

At the podium, Dwight David Eisenhower II and his wife, Julie Nixon Eisenhower took turns talking about a book they have just published, Going Home to Glory, A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961-1969.

The elder Eisenhower has been rated by historians as one of the country’s top 10 presidents. Soldier, statesman, university president, 34th President of the U.S., which back in those days made him the most powerful man on the planet, and, finally, gentleman farmer and gray eminence much sought-after by other world leaders.

After moving 38 times in their marriage, the Eisenhowers settled on a farm outside Gettysburg. It was the only home Ike and Mamie ever knew. They’re sort of considered public property in these parts. Lots of people knew them. Old Mrs. Durboraw sold Mamie eggs. Walton Jones was one of Ike’s caddies.

Ike played regularly at the Gettysburg Country Clubs. One of the Secret Service agents who played along with him told me that in the unlikely event you got close enough and looked into the agents’ golf bags; you would see M-1 carbines nestled down there amongst the clubs.

David’s years spent hanging out with “Granddad” had a profound effect on the younger man. The two were close. After becoming President in 1953, Ike renamed the presidential retreat in the Maryland mountains – dubbed “Shangri-La” by FDR – Camp David, in his grandson’s honor.

Julie, younger daughter of former President Richard M. Nixon, brought her own insights into the making of the book and into life with a former president.

David’s years of observation and conversation with that very remarkable human planted the curiosity and drive that caused David, now 62, to grow into a respected historian and author. His book on Ike’s war years — Eisenhower at War, 1943-1945 — was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1987.

After their initial talk about the book, David and Julie stood around chatting with the barely-plural press. They are remarkably easy to talk to. We all walked up the steps and out of the auditorium, to discover hundreds of people lined up to get their copies of Home to Glory signed.

I took some photos, and then took my leave, as more people filed into the building.

The late historian Dexter Perkins said “History is a kind of introduction to more interesting people than we can possibly meet in our restricted lives; let us not neglect the opportunity.”

A quarter-century and counting in journalism has afforded me many changes to stand right next to history and shake its hand, listen to the hum of its motors. Some of the people I have interviewed were celebrities. Frankly, their motors didn’t hum much.

We the media used to be pretty good at giving you a window to that experience. Somehow, we’ve stopped doing that, unless it was disguised as disaster, painted with flames and running with blood. We’re more than ready to tell you the latest peccadillo of some celebrity flavor-of-the-week, but are too lazy or dazed by the easy stories to spend the time and money to introduce you to the people at the heart of the great events, the ones that will matter long after the celebrities become trivia questions on TV game shows.

I don’t feel as though I wasted you time over the past quarter century. I am afraid, however, that too many of my younger colleagues are.


© 2011 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites: