In the autumn of last year, Jim Kralik, Todd Mickley, Craig Redding and Philip Layton put their heads together and decided that Gettysburg needed another museum-like venue.
Not ones to pussyfoot around, construction began in the spaces beneath Gettysburg History Center and Gettysburg Diorama, which they also own, and the Spirits of Gettysburg opened late last month. An open house is scheduled for this Saturday, June 13, with Adams County residents given free admission from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
"We wanted to present something that would both entertain customers and give them the opportunity to learn something," said Kralik, a retired sheriff from New York State and owner of the Artillery Ridge Campground.
"We want to help people understand the importance of this place," Mickley said.
The Spirits of Gettysburg is essentially a part of a three-member performance - Spirits of Gettysburg, the Gettysburg Diorama, and the Lincoln Train Museum, also on Steinwehr Avenue. The company has tour packages that can include all three of those attractions and Haunted Gettysburg Tours.
Spirits of Gettysburg has displays of artifacts, but at its heart is a walk through special effects and narrations. Some of the effects are pretty hair-raising, it would be giving away the fun to describe them.
Some of the effects include life-like figures, one of which has a surprising resemblance to President Richard M. Nixon.
That's not surprising. The figures used here and there in Spirits of Gettysburg were rescued from the now-defunct American Civil War Wax Museum, and other businesses, including the Hall of The Presidents.
The figure that looks like President Nixon actually was Richard M. Nixon at the latter venue.
"That's not really as out-of-place as it may seem," said Mickley. "Nixon's grandfather was killed here at the Battle of Gettysburg."
In some eerily realistic presentation put together by the team's special effects team, actors, settings and technology conspire to give visitors a chance to meet General Robert E. Lee as he shares his thoughts on his decision to launch Pickett's Charge; hear Jennie Wade tell of her last moments in her sister's home on Cemetery Hill; watch President Lincoln as he relates his worry and concern for the momentous battle taking place in Gettysburg; and see Joshua Chamberlain as he sends the 20th Maine down Little Round Top and into the storybooks.
Near the end of the tour, Generals Longstreet, Pickett and Armistead talk about the upcoming – and disastrous – battle on July 3, 1863, that will turn the course of the war and result in the death of one of them.
Following that discussion, the tour ends with a nervous stroll through the battle usually referred to as "Pickett's Charge." Younger visitors who believe that only things generated totally by computer can make them jump are in for a surprise.