- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

GETTYSBURG, Pa. The latest Battle of Gettysburg ended just after 5 p.m. yesterday when an explosive charge ripped through the foundation of a 307-foot observation tower looming over the historic battlefield, sending it crashing to the ground.
The demolition, on a day when the area was packed with thousands of Civil War re-enactors, was hailed as long overdue by many in the history-minded crowd.
"Never thought that thing belonged there," Ray Butara, a Civil War aficionado from Waynesboro, Pa., said of the steel tower built as a tourist attraction in the mid-1970s. Mr. Butara, 72, watched the demolition with his son and grandson.
"When it comes to the Civil War, we're purists," he said. "That thing just doesn't belong."
The tower was blown up with 10 pounds of explosives as part of a National Park Service campaign to remove modern structures and return the Gettysburg Battlefield to the way it looked in 1863.
The demolition was scheduled for July 3 because it was 137 years to the day Union forces turned back Pickett's Charge, a Confederate assault led by Gen. George Edward Pickett.
The Park Service also plans to restore fences, orchards and lanes that were present in 1863 and remove modern buildings that sit on the battlefield.
Bob Butara, 45, said his father used to bring the family to Gettysburg on vacation every year when he was young.
For him, the battlefields are something you have to see up close.
"You want to see the site, you don't go up 300 feet in a tower. You walk these fields. You see these creeks, trees and stone walls up close. You see the human element," Bob Butara said.
The tower consisted of a four-level viewing area in the shape of an octagon, supported by a latticework of battleship-gray steel. Many of Gettysburg's nearly 2 million visitors a year ascended the tower to get a bird's-eye view of the battlefield.
"We're just anxious to see the monstrosity go down. It destroys the authenticity of the battlefield," said David Holtzclaw, a history buff who showed up to get a front seat for the demolition. "When you try to picture in your mind what happened here 137 years ago, that destroys it. I'm happy to see it go."
Participants in the annual re-enactment nearby agreed that the tower needed to come down.
Henry Szczytko, 46, a pipe fitter from Neptune City, N.J., has been coming to Gettysburg for years as a member of the 61st New York Regiment of the Army of the Potomac.
He said he planned to have his picture taken in front of the nearby monument to Gen. George Meade.
"Finally, that thing won't be there to muck it up," he said of the tower. "I'm ready to see it gone."
There was an initial false start, then a second countdown, two shots from a cannon and a blast of smoke.
The tower fell into a parking lot after workers from Controlled Demolition Inc. of Phoenix, Md., set off a series of explosions around its base.
The tower has been a source of controversy since it opened on private property next to the national park in 1974. Many visitors, such as the Butaras, said the tower was intrusive, an aesthetic affront to the thousands of grave sites and war monuments that dot the 5,900-acre Gettysburg National Military Park.
The tower's fate was sealed last month when a federal judge in Harrisburg, Pa., ruled that the National Park Service could take possession of the property through eminent domain.
Getting rid of the tower has been a longtime goal of Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, who attended yesterday's demolition. The government reportedly offered $3 million as compensation to the owners of the tower and surrounding property.
The demolition was opposed by the tower's engineer and its former owners.
"It's not warranted," said Irwin Aronson, a lawyer for Overview Limited Partnership, which owned the tower. "The tower was a classroom in the sky."
Earlier yesterday, an estimated 2,300 re-enactors relived Pickett's Charge, the most pivotal battle of the Civil War on a field outside the town. The Park Service does not allow re-enactments on park property.
For spectators and costumed participants alike, the hot topic was the impending destruction of the tower. But many also were concerned about the national debate over symbols of the Confederacy.
"All the political pandering about the flag in South Carolina is just shameful," Peggy Aldhizer of Roanoke said of the flap over a Confederate battle flag that flew over the state capitol in Columbia, S.C.
Miss Aldhizer, outfitted in an authentic calico dress complete with petticoats and wool underwear despite the July heat, said she was disgusted with political opportunists fanning the flames in South Carolina.
"This flag controversy is a tool that is being used by those who would profit from division," she said. "Think about the U.S. government's genocide of the Indians, think about Waco, think about everything that's happened with this administration in the last eight years. The Confederate flag is no more a symbol of hatred than the U.S. flag."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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