At least one person feels strongly enough about some of the atmosphere surrounding the reopening festivities at Gettysburg National Battlefield Park by The Gettysburg Foundation and its multi-million dollar museum and visitor center to put it in writing.
From the Civil War Philadelphia Digest, written by member John Deppen (“Maj. Gen. W.S. Hancock”):
The invitation read, “Party like it’s 1863!” The holographic image, when viewed from one angle, showed dignified Americans in 19th century clothes. When viewed from a different angle the invitation showed these same Americans in garish party hats, with ridiculous, computer-manipulated grins on their faces.
Had this been an invitation to a child’s birthday party, I might have smiled and not given the invitation a moment’s thought. The invitation, however, came from The Gettysburg Foundation, and announced the grand opening of the new, multi-million dollar Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park.
Frankly, I was aghast at the tastelessness of the invitation, not just because of the silly hologram, but because of the “partying” theme. Though I did not live in Gettysburg in the second half of 1863, I am damned certain that no one was partying. For weeks after the July battle, civilians could not walk outside without a perfumed handkerchief covering their mouths and noses, stifling the sickening stench of decomposing men and horses. Women of all ages, pressed into service as nurses, watched thousands of wounded soldiers endure amputations, suffer lingering deaths from infections, and cry out piteously for mothers who would never see their sons again.
Farmers worked desperately to repair shattered farmsteads and salvage what crops they could from the blood-drenched fields. Unexploded shells and unfired weapons littered the landscape around Gettysburg for miles. Nearly a century and a half after the battle, a few shells still protrude from the walls of buildings in Gettysburg, and an unexploded shell was unearthed as recently as 2004. For the people of Adams County in 1863, Gettysburg was Armageddon.
When President Abraham Lincoln journeyed to Gettysburg in November 1863, he did so not in celebration, but to perform the solemn task of making “a few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of the new cemetery honoring the Union dead. While I never met President Lincoln, I am certain that, had the invitation to speak at the cemetery included a picture of someone in a party hat, he would have declined, no doubt with some of his eloquent, homespun wit.
The new Museum and Visitor Center was built at great cost. The battle was fought at a far greater cost, and the facility that houses the artifacts of that great and noble struggle should commemorate the soldiers who fought and died there, rather than celebrate itself.
In two separate emails to The Gettysburg Foundation - one on August 29 and one on September 2 - I expressed my dismay and disappointment with the invitation, and requested a personal conversation with someone in authority. I am a dues-paying member of the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg, the membership arm of the Foundation, and expected at least the courtesy of a response. As of this writing, I have received no response of any kind. I grimace in disgust at the thought of the money spent on those holograms.
I do not expect to attend the grand opening of the new museum later in September. I visited it once in June, and will reserve my opinions about the facility for another article. Instead, I will think about following in the footsteps of Union hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who wrote these words about his last visit to Little Round Top in 1913, “I went, it is not long ago, to stand again on that crest whose one day’s crown of fire has passed into the blazoned coronet of fame…I sat there alone, on the storied crest, till the sun went down as it did before over the misty hills, and the darkness crept up the slopes, till from all earthly sight I was buried as with those before.”
“But oh, what radiant companionship rose around, what steadfast ranks of power, what bearing of heroic souls. Oh, the glory that beamed through those nights and days…The proud young valor that rose above the mortal, and then at last was mortal after all.”
Mayor’s note: While there as been much discussion, particularly among the Civil War community as to the tenor of the entire project, the good and bad of the VC, the reworking of the cyclorama’s mural, the now official entrance fees, and other aspects, it is good to see that one person actually put figurative pen to paper and expressed the views of many. It looks like what happens when a 21st century PR firm takes over the promotion of a civil war battle site. As some would say, the inmates are truly running the asylum. Thanks to Joe Bilby for the CWPHILA Digest.