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Think you know the battle of Gettysburg pretty well? Don't try to stump a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide.
"There's this magazine article that came out," says Christina Moon, a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg, "and I think they said that becoming a battlefield guide is more difficult than getting into Harvard."
When Christina was 11, her mother wanted to take her to Disney World. Christina, however begged to go to Gettysburg instead. "So we came down here, we hired a battlefield guide, he showed us around and I just thought this was one of the greatest places I'd ever been," she says. After she graduated from college she decided to try becoming a Licensed Battlefield Guide. She studied for four years, forty hours a week on top of a full-time job. The group of 150 who took the written test got whittled down to 21, then after an oral exam, only 9 of those became Licensed Battlefield Guides.
Christina Moon, a Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide.
The exhaustive knowledge the guides have is necessary for the numerous variables they might encounter while giving tours. Some tours have to be shortened unexpectedly, some run longer (Christina once gave a 10 hour tour) and sometimes visitors have specific things they'd like to focus on.
Since tours sometimes involve hikes through wooded areas, Licensed Battlefield Guides are regularly subjected to outdoor hazards like poison ivy, ticks, snakes and even occasionally some bear sightings. One battlefield guide recently contracted Lyme disease.
But what about having to tell the story of the bloodiest battle in American history up to 500 times a year? What sort of mental toll does that take? "I turn off the Civil War when I go home. I like to keep it very separate," Christina says. "Realistically it's a really hard topic. We go out there every day and we say this number '51,000 men killed, wounded or captured' and it becomes just sort of a number we say and I worry that sometimes you might become a little bit immune to that. And I don't necessarily want to become immune to it."
Out of 155 Licensed Battlefield Guides, Christina is one of only 15 guides that are women. "I think to have a five-foot, two-inch tall blonde girl telling you about the bloodiest battle in American history maybe seems a bit incongruous for some people," she says. "It's just one of those societal stereotypes that...maybe we haven't evolved from yet."
Christina doesn't read from a script; all of what she says on her tours comes straight from memory. Whether on a bus full of Boy Scouts or on a private tour in visitors' cars, a battlefield guide's knowledge must be encyclopedic to be able to give tourists the best and most pertinent experience possible.
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