I’ve posted before about some of the online gimmicks that allow you to virtually visit historic sites, whether via aerial photos or webcams. Lately I’ve been trying the same thing with Google Street View, which allows you to travel along roads and look around for a 360° view. The images come from car-mounted cameras, so it only works for locations located along public thoroughfares.
Take Gettysburg, for example. Emmitsburg Road cuts across the middle of the battlefield; the Confederates had to cross it during Pickett’s Charge. You can plop yourself down at street level across from the High Water Mark of the Confederacy and pan around to view the entire landscape, behind you and on both sides. It’s too bad that internal Park Service roads aren’t included, or you could tour the whole battlefield.
Urban sites work best, because public streets are more numerous around them. Here’s Lincoln’s law office and the Old State Capitol in Springfield, here’s Independence Hall in Philadelphia, here’s Fort Moultrie in Charleston, and here’s the site of the first shot of the Revolution in Lexington, MA. Bunker Hill appears to have an ice cream truck parked in front of it, which is just about the last thing you’d expect to see on a battlefield. The neat part is that you can use the arrows on the streets to “walk” around these sites and examine them from different angles.
If you’ve got a particular site you want to visit, just head over to Google Map, type in the address or name, and then zoom in as far as you can. Near the top left side of the map is a small, yellow icon shaped like a human figure. Grab that icon with your mouse and set it down on the nearest street. It’s not exactly being there, but for those of us who like history, it’s a fine way to make our workdays even less productive than they already are.