Eighty miles north, just over the Pennsylvania line, lies the little town of Gettysburg, across whose wheat fields and pastures the most decisive battle of the Civil War was fought. It's on the "must see" list for every tourist within reach.
But last summer tourism declined at Gettysburg -- a 30-percent drop in the military park -- and observers blamed that season's gas shortage, Pennsylvania's odd-even sales days for travelers, and perhaps a pinch of fear about the accident at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant.
There is now hope that the scheduled mid-June opening to the public of the Eisenhower farm will help increase visitor totals this summer.
Unfortunately, a good many Gettsburg tourists arrive, gape at the Cyclorama, the electric map of the battlefield, the cannon and the monuments, and go home without giving much thought to the area's other overshadowed attractions.
Leave the fast-food joints and the motels that have sprung up like camp followers around the battlefield and let the country roads west of Gettsburg carry you into another world. A good place to start is the home of the little horses developed by the Falabella family of Buenos Aires. Julio Cesar Falabella spent some 45 years patiently evolving this strain of miniature horses, perfect in every detail except they they stand at maturity often no more than 26 inches high. These are not freaks or ponies; they are appealing Lilliputian horses.
The little horses are so hard to believe that even the local veterinarians were confounded at first. What looked like a colt with its first set of milk teeth might well be 10 years old. And that's just getting started for a miniature horse at the Gettsburg Miniature Horse Farm, which appears to be a sort of Shrangri-La. The little horses live twice as long as their big cousins.
Four times a day after Memorial Day, and on weekends only till then, they are put through a series of paces by fresh-faced 4-H girls who urge them over absurb little geranium-bedecked jumps in an indoor arena. The little horses are speedy and can beat a standard race horse at 100 yards. They're also intelligent and friendly, with the sweet disposition sadly lacking in many ponies. Gettsburg Farm is dotted with noses poked over fences hoping to be patted.
Everything here is sweet and clean, and blessedly free from tawdry commercialism. Butch, the mongrel coon hound who dropped in a couple of years ago, is official greeter, and there's a resident burro and a family of kittins up for adoption. This year plans are afoot to set up races between the full-sized horses belonging to the 4-H girls and the Lilliputian ones on the new outdoor track. There are wagon rides and even saddle rides -- if you weigh less than 80 pounds. Come by and meet Don Franco, Oregano, Lolita and the rest. Admission charge of $3.50 is pared to $1.75 for children.
When you tire of equestrian shows, visit the little village of Fairfield, population about 600, five miles down the road, where the Fairfild Inn has been doing business for the last 157 years. Once a stagecoach stop and a drovers' tavern on the "Great Road" from York to Hagerstown, this inn is everything the fast food joints are not. And with two wonderful, big old bedrooms with huge fourposters and no TV and spend the night 15 per person). At this writing an annex with four more rooms is slated to open shortly in a Civil War-vintage house down the street. The inn itself is a National Historic Site.
In this part of the country the Civil War is a living, breathing thing that happened only yesterday, and the inn's role was to host Confederate general Jeb Stuart while his men fanned out to steal 700 horses from the valley. Gen. Robert E. Lee and his men beat their retreat through Fairfield, where the women of the town brought out huge iron kettles of bean soup to feed the starving troops as they trudged wearily home. Bean soup is still on the menu and very good, too.
David Thomas, the young proprietor of the inn, has kept everything as much as it was as possible. He labors in the kitchen at mealtime and, in an era of creeping conformity, has preserved the personality of this old hotel. Kerosene lamps light the tables under the exposed beams of the dining room and the food is all made from scratch, country style and reasonable.
A pitcher of honey and a basket of country biscuits start things off and what follows is a miracle in the days of the Big Mac. Mashed potatoes with country gravy, turkey with sage dressing, scalloped apples, salty country ham, deep-dish apple pie with a wedge of cheese. On the way out, stop in the parlor and have a look at the old registration books.
The observation tower which stands on the boundary of the 687 acres of Eisenhower property is supposedly for battlefield viewing, but in the past many a pair of binoculars have been turned in the other direction toward the farm. Now the property belongs to the National Park Service, and beginning in mid-June the first busloads of visitors will leave the battlefield visitor's center and make an hour and a half visit to see how Mamie and her Ike lived.
The size of the house and the one-lane roads will keep the tourist flow limited, so tickets will be available only on the day of the tour you want on a first-come, first-serve basis. The tickets will be free at the visitors' center, where related exhibits will be on display. However, there will be a nominal charge for the bus.
For anybody who can remember World War II, the place is full of the romance of history. It's a simple Pennsylvania farmhouse which fits into the hillside setting without pretension, but you can't help but imagine Churchill sitting on the back porch puffing on his cigar and discussing the future of the allies with his host. He and DeGaulle and the rest may well have eaten the steaks Eisenhower so loved to baarbecue on the patio in the rear. Ike had a special method -- he threw them stright on coals.
The bus will come up the grand allee lined with evergreens to the parking lot by the old barn, from whose dormer window a searchlight guided the president's helicopter home from Camp David. Originally red, the Eisenhowers painted the barn pale green and so it stands today, a handsome relic of an earlier time.
From the parking lot the visitors will wind past the little guest house whose porch railing boasts the bowed cast-iron railing from Mrs. Eisenhower's girlhood home in Denver. From there they will enter the house itself, completely rebuilt around the original shell, according to designs by Milton Osborn. A rusty windmill still watches over the house from the rear.
No one can enter the house until the official opening, for the furniture is still being sorted out with the executor -- this to the family, that to the nation. An advance tour allowed me only to peer in the windows. At the tea house canvas chairs inscribed "Ike, Commander In Chief," and "Mamie, 1st Lady," could be seen stored against the wall. One uncurtained room in the rear revealed a bridge table and a French phone, and comfortable chairs where the president was said to have spent much time after his heart attack.
The house commands an unparalleled view of the countryside and its entire rear wall is most glass. Between the barn and the house is Ike's ole putting green, scheduled for refurbishing, and the rose garden they both loved. The Martin house nearby is bound to be tenanted before official opening time.
Will the farm bring business back to Gettsburg? Nobody really knows. Thomas, proprietor of the Fairfield Inn, notes that the Eisenhower era is over and some of his young guests have never heard of Ike. Also, the town has its problems. The controversial privately-built overlook tower is getting only about one fourth of the hoped-for business, and the Chamaber of Commerce is defensive about past charges of commercialism.
"Since when has the government had the right to stop private enterprise? asked Ruth M. Detwiler, executive secretary of the chamber, refering to earlier efforts to keep the tower from being erected. "This nation was built on that."
In town, "the big ugly neon signs of the motels have been replaced with smaller, no-flash signs," she explained. "In the four blocks of the Historic District, no one can do anything structural, even paint, without guidance from the review board of Historic Gettysburg."
In some past summers the tourist rush presented problems. "We weren't ready to cope with 3 million summer visitors," Detwiler added. "There was no planning. The main avenue looked like Coney Island -- it was the Gold Rush."
Says a National Park Service spokesman:
"They never had any zoning. Any gimcrack development could come in. It's a problem for a small town. The local government has never wanted to undertake complete planning."
The merchants, at least some of them, think all the concern about historic purity is being carried to extremes.
"They'd like to have everything as it was in 1863," said a man who asked not to be named. "You know about Devil's Den? Trees have grown up there that weren't there when the battle was fought and they're thinking of cutting them down [in order to insure authenticity]. Next thing you know they'll be putting dead bodies around."