Couples Celebrate Personal Milestones While Honoring Gettysburg’s History
By Lisa Gregory
It was his special place. Until it became their special place.
“I was exploring Little Round Top my first trip to Gettysburg and, coincidentally, the sunset was about to start,” says Chris Powers, a history teacher from Indiana. “It was just so beautiful.”
Then he took his girlfriend Lana O’Neill to Gettysburg for the first time. “Right after we checked into the room we went directly there,” says Chris. “Her first exposure to Gettysburg was a Little Round Top sunset.”
So it was expected that they would visit the spot again when they came to Gettysburg in August 2020. But there would be a twist this time. As tourists looked on in surprise, Chris got down on one knee and asked Lana to be his wife.
“I was shocked and started crying,” she says. “One woman there was like, ‘Oh my God, is he asking you to marry him?’”
The Gettysburg battlefield is a place of national history. But it’s also a place of personal history as well, from engagements to marriages to even anniversary celebrations.
“Couples want a timeless place of history to go with the timeless history of the love they are creating,” says Constance Tarbox, event coordinator for Battlefield Bed and Breakfast Inn, which has its own rich history with a Civil War-era farmhouse on Gettysburg’s South Cavalry Battlefield.
And, for some, the very connection to Gettysburg and its famous battle results in finding romance.
Laurie Chapman Michalski was working outside of Philadelphia when she met her future husband, Chris. “We were introduced by a mutual friend who knew that my husband loved Civil War history,” says Laurie, who grew up in Gettysburg. “He kept telling my husband, ‘You need to meet her, she’s from Gettysburg.’”
The town would continue to play an important role in their lives as they got engaged at Little Round Top, married at St. James Lutheran Church, and had their wedding reception at the historic Herr’s Tavern and Publick House, established in 1815.
The couple’s wedding pictures even include them posing with the Abraham Lincoln statue in the town’s square. “And the next day we took our out-of-town guests on a battlefield tour,” remembers Laurie, who has been married for 20 years.
While the Michalskis may have had the help of a friend to get them together, Chuck and Amy Getty had the help of Jennie Wade, the only direct civilian casualty of the battle. “We visited the Jennie Wade House and read about the legend that says if you’re single and 18 years of age and you put your finger through the bullet hole in the parlor door, you will receive a marriage proposal within a year,” says Chuck.
Initially, Amy wasn’t so sure. However, a woman standing beside her shrugged and said, “I don’t know about you, but I’m not getting any younger.”
“I said, ‘Okay, I will too,’” she recalls.
Good thing. Chuck, who spent some of his growing up years in Gettysburg, proposed to her while on the dance floor of a local venue that very evening. “The Jennie Wade House was the set up for that,” he says.
The couple, who live in Ohio and have been married since 1986, travel back to visit Gettysburg frequently. “It’s just a very, very special place for both of us,” says Amy.
Andrew Biggins and Tiffany Coury may have not had the help of Jennie Wade, but they did incorporate a bit of Gettysburg history into their engagement.
In their home, the couple—who got engaged this past summer—has a special painting on their wall. It features the historic Dobbin House Tavern in the background and Andrew on bended knee asking Tiffany to marry him. Interestingly enough, the painting was done before the proposal.
“The idea popped into my mind, what if I had a portrait of me doing the proposal?” says Andrew, who grew up in Gettysburg. “And then do the proposal while she opened the picture.”
Gettysburg had become a special place for the young couple, and Andrew thought it was the perfect place for his proposal. “We both went to college in Pittsburgh, so one of our favorite things was to come to Gettysburg for the weekend and get away,” says Andrew, who is studying law in Washington state while Tiffany works there as a clinical mental health therapist.
And Dobbin House Tavern was special too. “It was our first date when I brought her back to Gettysburg for her first time meeting my family,” he says of the restaurant, established in 1776.
The portrait was painted by Sylvia Sentz, a high school friend of Andrew’s, is strikingly realistic, down to the clothing that the couple wore that day. Andrew knew Tiffany favored black dresses and described one to the artist. “I didn’t even send her a picture of the dress,” he says.
As Tiffany prepared to pack for the trip to Gettysburg, she picked a black dress she wanted to wear. “And he was like, ‘No, I think you should pick the other one,’” Tiffany remembers. It was the one in the painting that Andrew had described to the artist.
Now, the painting is a constant reminder of a special day and a special place for the couple. “It is something that we are going to have forever,” says Andrew.
Other Gettysburg attractions, such as Sachs Covered Bridge and the Rupp House, have provided a unique backdrop to a special moment.
Keith and Cheryl Lincoln (yes, Keith says he is a descendent of that Lincoln) got engaged and married at Sachs Covered Bridge. “We always seemed to gravitate toward that bridge when we were out,” says Cheryl.
“It’s a beautiful place,” adds Keith. “And a lot transpired on that bridge.”
Designated Pennsylvania’s most historic bridge, it was used by both Union and Confederate troops during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Keith, originally from New York, and Cheryl, an Illinois native, met while they were living in Florida. Both fell in love with Gettysburg and moved to the area in 2006.
On the day Keith proposed, he asked Cheryl if she wanted to go for a ride. Of course, they found their way to the bridge. “He had this box,” says Cheryl. “It had pieces of paper in it and it was basically the reasons why he loved me.”
And underneath all those reasons was her ring, remembers Cheryl. Their wedding took place there as well in 2012.
“The bridge is even more special now,” says Cheryl.
For Megan Milton and her husband Bill, the journey to their wedding spot—the Rupp House—would begin with a vacation. “My husband and son are both very interested in the Civil War,” says Megan. “We came several times over the course of two years and decided to get married here.”
In fact, their wedding day in 2019 would not be their first time at the Rupp House. “We actually toured Rupp House on our first trip here to Gettysburg,” says Megan, who now resides in Gettysburg with her husband and children. “We found it interesting, and the kids loved it.”
The Rupp House, now a history center, was the home of John and Caroline Rupp and their six children during the Battle of Gettysburg. “We wanted to say, ‘We got married right in the middle of history,’” says Megan. “It made it more special for us.”
Other couples are not just content to be married at a historic spot but want to replicate a wedding of the time as well—from clothing to vows.
Debbie and Tim Sheads, for example, were married in Gettysburg in 1974. But the wedding could have happened in 1863. The couple, who are now the owners of S & S Sutler, a vintage clothing store in Gettysburg, went all out for their big day at Christ Lutheran Church.
“We’re all about history,” says Tim, who proposed to Debbie on the battlefield as a busload of tourists applauded.
The ceremony, says Debbie, was an 1860 Lutheran Order of Marriage. “We did research for maybe nine solid months,” she says of the preparation.
The clothing the wedding party wore was authentic as well. “All the uniforms were made by my mother,” says Tim. “And we followed it right down to the stitching.”
Tim’s uniform included an original belt and sword as well as his great-grandfather’s watch. “I wanted to wear that in memory of him because he served during the Civil War,” he says.
As for the bride, she was met with the challenge of layers upon layers of clothing that included a chemise, stockings, a corset, underdrawers, under petticoat, and a cage crinoline. The wedding dress itself weighed several pounds, she says. According to the couple, who both grew up in Gettysburg, theirs was the first Civil War wedding in the town of Gettysburg. “We had to get a permit to have what they called a parade because we had horses and buggies for the bridal party,” says Debbie.
Giving tourists and bystanders, she says, “an eyeful” of living history.
Karen Heil and her husband, Bob, wed in 2013, wanted a Civil War-era wedding as well. Karen says she prepared for their wedding ceremony, held at Battlefield Bed and Breakfast Inn, by doing research on the internet. In the process she learned some interesting facts. “Wednesdays were the day that they got married,” she says, “but we got married on Saturday.”
Much like the Sheads, Karen and Bob, who reside in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, used the vows of the time—including obey. “I knew I could forget it later on,” Karen says, laughing.
Her wedding dress represented the period, as did her husband’s uniform. “He portrayed a Bucktail, which was the unit of Tioga County,” says Karen. “They all have a deer tail on their hat.”
Details like that mattered.
“We tried to respect it,” says Karen of the history incorporated into their wedding.
Met, engaged, married.
But that’s not the end of the milestone moments. Some choose Gettysburg to celebrate the years that they have spent together. Throughout their marriage, Janet and Michael Keegan, of Oyster Bay, New York, visited Gettysburg periodically. “We got hooked on it,” she says of the place and its history.
So, as their 20th anniversary approached, there was no doubt where they would celebrate it. And at one spot in particular.
“We went to dinner and timed it so that we were done in time to go to Little Round Top at sunset,” she says. “It’s a special place for us.”
Battlefield Bed and Breakfast
2264 Emmitsburg Road, Gettysburg
Herr’s Tavern and Publick House
900 Chambersburg Road, Gettysburg
Jennie Wade House Museum
548 Baltimore St., Gettysburg
Dobbin House Tavern
89 Steinwehr Ave., Gettysburg
Rupp House History Center
451 Baltimore St., Gettysburg
331 Buford Ave., Gettysburg
Sachs Covered Bridge
Waterworks Road, Gettysburg