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GETTYSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA — Vendors looking to capitalize on the barrage of tourists coming to town to mark the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg are hawking commemorative T-shirts, hats and other trinkets as a re-enacted war rages on nearby.
More than 200,000 people — including 20,000 re-enactors — are expected to visit the small south-central Pennsylvania town for events through Fourth of July weekend.
Re-enactors and shoppers seeking more authentic trinkets head to the 19th-century-style tent city where shopkeepers offer items appropriate for the period or to re-stock the soldiers — just like traveling suppliers did in the 1860s.
A few visitors say they aren’t comfortable with the consumerism, especially downtown.
“I don’t like the commercialism. I think they can do a lot less of it,” said Richard Gow, 65, of Binghamton, New York. Dressed sharply in a gray uniform, Gow was portraying noted Confederate Gen. Lewis Armistead outside the American Civil War Wax Museum.
Then Gow — himself a U.S. Army veteran who served during Vietnam — looked toward the battlefield, just down the road.
“It’s the grounds,” he said reverentially, referring to the fields and hills where up to 10,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died in the Civil War’s pivotal conflict. “It’s an honor to be here.”
Federal forces turned away the Confederates during fierce fighting on July 1-3, 1863, ending with the South’s ill-fated Pickett’s Charge across an open field against Union soldiers.
Many other visitors say modern Gettysburg strikes the appropriate balance between capitalizing on its notoriety and paying reverence to the Civil War’s pivotal conflict.
“This kind of brings history alive,” said Dave Gish, 54, a pastor from Wilton, Connecticut, who took photos of a re-enactment between Union and Confederate cavalry featuring hundreds of horses.
He noted there were attractions such as water slides or roller coasters in town, venues that would be out of place with the period.
“It’s the kind of thing where this is pretty much what you’re coming for,” he said.
The National Park Service events start Sunday night. In recent years, park officials said they have made an effort to rehabilitate major areas of the battlefield to make it better resemble the territory soldiers encountered in Gettysburg.
One of the changes involved removing a motel that that once stood across the street from a monument for Ohio soldiers. The battlefield rehabilitation process grew out of a master plan in 1999 that didn’t set the 150th anniversary as a deadline — though park officials say it was a welcome and timely coincidence.
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