A Loss For Gettysburg

All of you have no doubt heard that the Pennsylvania Gaming Board turned down a request to build a casino a short distance from the battlefield.  Resistance against the plan was well organized and included a wide range of interest groups.  They have every reason to rejoice.  Let me say up front that I am pleased with the decision.  Like many of you I worry about the continued development that threatens many of our Civil War battlefields.  At the same time I like to think that I am sensitive to the fact that most people could care less about history and therefore have different priorities. 

While I never supported the idea of a casino during the debate I tried to maintain a perspective that acknowledged the historical balance between preserving public places and commercial interests.  In connection to Gettysburg these choices have never been mutually exclusive.  The battle was used to attract tourists and their dollars from the beginning.  [The history of this is analyzed by the late Jim Weeks in Gettysburg: Memory, Market, And An American Shrine (Princeton University Press, 2003)]  From the PUP website:

Gettysburg entered the market not with recent interest in the Civil War nor
even with twentieth-century tourism but immediately after the battle. Founded by
a modern industrial society with the capacity to deliver uniform images to
millions, Gettysburg, from the very beginning, reflected the nation’s marketing
trends as much as its patriotism. Gettysburg’s pilgrims–be they veterans,
families on vacation, or Civil War reenactors–have always been modern consumers
escaping from the world of work and responsibility even as they commemorate. And
it is precisely this commodification of sacred ground, this tension between
commerce and commemoration, that animates Gettysburg’s popularity.

Gettysburg continues to be a current rather than a past event, a site that
reveals more about ourselves as Americans than the battle it remembers.
Gettysburg is, as it has been since its famous battle, both a cash cow and a
revered symbol of our most deeply held values.

As a result of my research on the Crater I now have a better appreciation of how the Petersburg battlefields were used as a marketing tool by real estate firms and other interest groups  to attract people and businesses to the area.  Their efforts were widely supported by local residents and city officials.  We need to remember this as we celebrate this victory.  From around the blogosphere:

Yes!!! Thanks for posting this . . . we hadn’t heard. I’ll tell my teenaged sons
now. We’d visited Gettysburg earlier this year and they were both adamant that
we would not shop anywhere that had a pro-gambling issue sign posted.

While I’m being blunt, may I suggest that David LeVan and folks of his ilk find
some other place to attempt to soil.  LeVan, the owner of the “Gettysburg
Battlefield Harley-Davidson” was the power and money behind the casino attempt. 
Perhaps it would be better if LeVan sells his businesses and just gets out of
Gettysburg altogether.  Maybe he can go north and get a casino built on Plymouth
Rock.

My point is that not everyone in Gettysburg should be expected to support preservation efforts.  And we don’t need to point the finger at them as if they violated some sacred trust.  If you understand the history of the Gettysburg battlefield you would see that there never was one.     Again, let’s celebrate this decision, but let’s not forget that this latest challenge is part of a rich history of consumerism and preservation.  They are both tied together. 

1 comment… add one

  • Mike Dec 21, 2006

    Kevin,

    I completely agree with you. I am very glad that the casino bid was rejected.

    I’ve been to Gettysburg a few times. We all picture it as this hallowed ground, National Cemetary, quant town, etc. Off the beaten track though, there as really some run down places off the center square. I’m sure the town good have used the money and the townspeople the employment.

    Still it is Gettysburg. One of the most recognized battlefields in the world. It is synonymous with the American civil War, Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, Robert E. Lee, and Pickett’s Charge. It is a hallowed place by many Americans.

    It will be interesting to see how Gettysburg “recovers” after this battle. Perhaps the citizens need to take lessons from the 1865 and the reconciliation that needed to happen after the war. Like any good debate there is a winner and a loser. When the debate is over, we need to respect the opposition and be “gentleman” in the end.

    I am very happy we won though!

    Mike

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