A Different Perspective on Battlefield Preservation

Let me be clear that I don’t want to see a casino built near the Gettysburg battlefield, but we’ve got to do better when it comes to making our case.  Enough with the sappy videos and the all-star cast of Hollywood movie stars and historians that no one has heard of.  And enough with the preserving the legacy of the men who fought here argument.  No one alive knows how the men who fought at Gettysburg might feel about a casino.  Finally, we need to move from a position that automatically assumes the moral high ground. We’ve hit a dead end.

Harry Smeltzer “thinks that there is no better lesson on how much of the general public views Civil War preservationists than how Civil War preservationists view those trying to save the Gettysburg Cyclorama building. It all comes down to priorities. This is a learning opportunity, if we treat it as such.” – Facebook update, 09/08 (blogger and battlefield preservation advocate)

Larry Cebula “This whole controversy boils down to some people’s moral objections to gambling. There are dozens of businesses equally close to the battlefield (thought the video makes it sound like they are going to bull doze Little Round Top for the facility). The Casino will be within an existing hotel.  This is a lot like (here I go!) the controversy over the mosque near ground zero. People are misusing history to cover their moral objections to legal activity.” –  Comment left at Civil War Memory

5 comments… add one
  • MississippiLawyer Sep 8, 2010 @ 18:48

    For me it has nothing to do with morality. I’m such a libertarian that I drive people nuts, so I could care less if you gamble, do drugs, pick up hookers, whatever. However, from my point of view, the Gettysburg casino like the “Ground Zero Mosque” is just tacky, that’s all.

    I used to do interpreting at Vicksburg and I will say that the several riverboat casinos (visible from a few points in the park, but not most) really don’t have any effect at all. I don’t think it takes away from the “sacredness” of the area or whatever. Is there really a difference in a Popeyes with a flashing sign across the street from the entrance to the park and a Harrah’s casino boat a little way down the road?

    Sidebar: What would really help the Vicksburg NMP is to cut down most of the damn trees in the park and try and get rid of some of the kudzu. For a lay person riding the 20 mile road that winds through the park all the trees just cluster everything up and they are left scratching their heads. It is no exaggeration to say that there are probably 5 batteries of cannon throughout the park that are all facing a massive forest not 20 feet from the muzzle of their guns. Restore it back to the way it looked during the battle so the tourists can clearly see the siege lines and understand what the heck they are driving through. It’s not a protected forest it’s a military park. Get rid of those trees!!!

    Ok, rant over.

  • Margaret D. Blough Sep 8, 2010 @ 18:00

    Kevin-I must respectfully disagree with Larry. It’s NOT all about moral opposition to gambling. It certainly isn’t for me. My maternal grandfather was the only member of his family who emigrated from Scotland. A half-brother and a step-brother retired VERY comfortably by working class Scottish standards after long careers as turf accountants, i.e. bookies (it’s legal there) so I think it would be hypocritical of me to be too squeamish about that.although I rarely gamble because it does seem apparent that the odds favor the house. OTOH, IMHO, casinos have replaced lotteries as the latest scheme for generating revenues without officially raising taxes, and I don’t think, for the most part, the promises made for casinos have been fulfilled.

    A lot of it is about how much of a buffer a preserved historic landscape needs to survive and I think that is at the core of the opposition of most preservation groups. I have a copy of the 1977 Advisory Council on Historic Preservation study “A Plan to Preserve the Historic Resources of the Gettysburg Area of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” in which it first called for the removal of the National Tower, the old VC (referred to in the report as the Electric Map Building) and the Cyclorama Center which was then only about 15 years old. My scanner isn’t working very well but I can bring a copy for you with me to the symposium at Norfolk State this month. I can e-mail you the recommendation of the ACHP panel that did the Section 106 review for the Cyclorama Building in 1999 and came out in favor of the NPS’s plan.

    I’d also suggest reading one of the best discussions of why battlefield preservation and protection from commercial exploitation is important: the United States Supreme Court decision in U S v. GETTYSBURG ELECTRIC R. CO., 160 U.S. 668 (1896) which can be found at http://laws.findlaw.com/us/160/668.html. This is the case that established that battlefield preservation is a public use for which the government legally can use its power of eminent domain.

    What is projected for the casino is far more intense in terms of traffic and people than the current commercial tenants are.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2010 @ 2:19

      Thanks for the link to the court case.

  • Larry Cebula Sep 8, 2010 @ 15:05

    I have been arguing this over at the National Council for Public History LinkedIn page. I will work it up into a blog post soon.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 8, 2010 @ 15:08

      That would be great, Larry.

Now that you've read the post, share your thoughts.