At Gettysburg, Moral Panic Disguised as Historic Preservation

Update: Thanks to those of you who have already commented.  That is exactly the point of this post.  I’ve received a number of emails expressing curiosity and even disgust over my decision to feature this guest post.  Many of you know that I’ve strived to offer different perspectives on controversial issues in an attempt to get people to think “out of the box” or to try to steer a discussion down a different road.  I understand that emotions are strong, but we can have an intellectual discussion about this if we choose to do so.  Finally, please don’t assume that this guest post reflects my own view of the situation.  At the same time I do believe that Professor Cebula offers a perspective that deserves consideration.  Thanks

[Guest Post by Larry Cebula]

The Civil War Preservation Trust has just released a video decrying the proposed building of a casino near Gettysburg National Battlefield. I think the video is wretched and illustrates nearly everything that is wrong with how we remember and memorialize our history in this country.

Some background: A developer wants to open the “Mason-Dixon Resorts Casino” within an existing hotel and convention center a half-mile from the boundary of Gettysburg Park. Pennsylvania has allowed casino gambling since 2004, starting with slot machines and now including table games such as poker. A 2005 attempt to build a casino in Gettysburg was defeated. Now the developers are trying again, and the Civil War Preservation Trust and others are fighting back, in part with this video:

My objections to the video, and the cause, are as follows:

1. Why do we care what Sam Waterston and Matthew Broderick think about this? They are actors, people! They only pretended to have fought at Gettysburg. McCullough was the only real historian they used for the production. Show me David Blight and we’ll talk.

2. The battlefield as it currently exists is hardly pristine–whatever that might mean in such a context. You can hardly swing a dead cat without hitting one gigantic monument or another. Now these monuments, many erected by battle survivors in the years and decades after the fight, are interesting historical artifacts in their own right. But they represent a tremendous departure from the way the field of battle might have looked on July 1, 1863. Beyond the matter of the monuments, the landscape is different from what it would have been in 1863. The trees have grown in (though the National Park Service is currently working to restore the 1863 landscape), the open fields are full of grass instead of crops, jets fly overhead. The smell of powder and rotting flesh are gone… It is not as if the battlefield were immaculately preserved and about to be ruined.

3. My strongest objection to the video is the fetishistic treatment of warfare as a sacred activity more meaningful than other human activity. We can’t have people gambling, for God’s sake, it cheapens the memory of three solid days of people slaughtering one another. Susan Eisenhower (whose expertise is helpfully captioned as “Grandaughter of President Eisenhower”) complains that the casino is an attempt to “exploit the brand that is Gettysburg.” But surely gambling is more wholesome than people lining up to blow one anothers’ limbs off?

I know, I know, Lincoln started it: “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract…” The Biblical idea of consecration by blood was very popular in the 19th century. The 19th century is where it belongs.

4. This is selective outrage. The proposed casino will be a half-mile from the boundaries of the park and in an already existing hotel complex. (I had to look that up, the Civil War Preservation Trust would have you believe they are ready to bulldoze Little Round Top to make way for the slots.) A quick Google Map search for “shops” shows dozens and dozens of commercial businesses roughly the same distance from the battlefield, including the Cannonball Olde Tyme Malt Shop and Dirty Billy’s Hats. Thr problem with this business, as the video makes clear around the half-way point, is that people will be gambling, and gambling is bad. I actually agree that gambling is a bad thing, but it is also legal in Pennsylvania, just like selling ice cream and hats.

5. My God, the over-the-top rhetoric in this video is terrible. It discredits not only the cause but the very idea of historic preservation. We are told that the casino will somehow “prostitute” the site. If this casino is built, we are assured, other casinos will pop up like toadstools at the Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, Ground Zero, Lincoln Memorial, and presumably, your grandma’s grave.

6. Where does it end? There were perhaps 10,000 conflicts within the Civil War. This National Park Service page lists hundreds of them. And notice that the anti-casino forces are objecting to something that is not on the federally defined battlefield at all, but nearby. One calls for a “buffer zone” around the park–but how wide that buffer is supposed to be, and what commercial activities will be allowed within it, are mysteries.

The campaign to block the casino is not a legitimate effort of historic preservation. It is a moral panic being propagated by Puritan scolds. And it reminds me terribly of another current attempt to use history to block American citizens from exercising their rights to build a legal facility on their own land. Civil War Preservation Trust, meet Sarah Palin.

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87 comments… add one
  • Mario Sep 21, 2010 @ 9:33

    I am not a gambler, nor am I opposed to gambling or those who do. That is as long as it is not done to excess. I actually enjoy ocassionly visiting a casino for the ambience, etc. That said, I am opposed to any enterprise that will desecrate any historical property in this great land. If there was a guarantee that no further intrusions to the already established boundaries of the battlefield would ever occur, then I for one can turn a blind eye to the casino operation. I do not live in that community, though have visited many times, and can appreciate the economic benefit on the same, however, why not place it another few miles away from the park.? What is the hoopla about having to place it on the rear door steps of America’s most sacred and historical ground (excluding ground zero of course)?
    By the way, last I remember Mathew Broderick played Col Shaw in the Movie “Glory”, which was about Battery Wagner in South Carolina, not Gettysburg.

  • Sherree Sep 16, 2010 @ 5:23

    Hi Kevin,

    Love the “Speak Your Mind” caption for the comment section of your blog.

    All the Earth is sacred and hallowed ground. The bones, and past, of many ancestors lie beneath the surface of the ground of every region of this nation, so whose sacrifice is to be honored–whose blood?

    There are strip malls, parking lots, and exclusive residential housing developments (and some not so exclusive) that were built over Indigenous burial grounds and ceremonial sites throughout the country. This is nothing new. I think that we should tear them all down and return the nation to a pristine wilderness.

    There, I have spoken my mind…Talk to you in another couple of months.

    PS. The blog is wonderful, as usual. Also, I am actually for preservation of battlefields, just seeking to broaden our definition of what constitutes a battlefield, and include more in the list that enumerates those whom we should honor. Larry wrote a very interesting post. The comments were interesting, too.

  • JJ Sep 12, 2010 @ 2:10

    I will put aside the actor’s opinions and comments not being part of the discussion (although I disagree in this case) and will address the actual “benefits” of having gaming and it’s affects on local economy.

    If anyone wants to see direct evidence of this please take a ride to Atlantic City. However, do it justice by not spending all your time on the boardwalk. Go into the community and find out actually how many jobs are created and where the revenue goes. The sales pitch for establishing gaming as a source of revenue for the state’s elderly, education programs and the revitalization of Atlantic City itself has proven to be a bust. The state is bankrupt, the education system has used whatever money they did receive to hire overpriced administrators and the city itself is a dump, similar to what it was when it all started many years ago. Yes, they’ve put up some parks and a few low income housing complexes, but that was in the beginning and there’s been nothing since.

    What I am saying is that it all looks good when being proposed. The big difference is that when they developed Atlantic City, they were not disrespecting our ancestors who fought and died to maintain our freedom. They were proposing to redevelop a blighted area that had been forgotten by local politicians. That goal has hardly been touched and the great economic boom to the area has never come. Whatever jobs were created have quickly been replaced by technology and they’ve found very creative ways to eliminate jobs.

    Please don’t prostitute a sacred part of our history for a short lived economic boost because it will be short lived and never develop into the vision that they are pitching. Build a casino a few miles away somewhere and let the brave men who fought and died at Gettysburg have their well deserved honor and place in history.

  • Chris Meekins Sep 10, 2010 @ 16:08

    oh, read further. delete mine if you wish! But I think I am right and it was Atlanta not Gettysburg.

  • Chris Meekins Sep 10, 2010 @ 16:00

    I would like to point out that Matthew Broderick actually has a bigger stake in it than just being a movie star. If you wish you can see the episode of Who Do You Think You Are which features Broderick. You will find that his Civil War ancestor fought in the Atlanta campaign and was killed and buried out side of Atlanta and then reburied post-war with no name on his grave. I understand its an affected moment for the TV show but through research they were able to locate his ancestor’s grave. I believe Broderick then went ahead and had the headstone ordered. He even has a few moments talking about his role as an actor versus his ancestor’s soldiering. I did not watch this video (just could not do it) but I will give MB credit beyond acting in Glory for an interest in battlefield preservation. Now, back to reading the comments! great discussion….

  • Ken Noe Sep 10, 2010 @ 6:42

    Since Mark Snell’s post won’t appear until the weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to continue commenting here. I confess that I only read the initial post briefly in the middle of a busy Thursday, which left a distinct but still undefined sense of utter annoyance coupled with visions of the Franklin Pizza Hut. Having spent some time reading it carefully as well as the replies this morning, I did finally come to see why my gut reacted this way. Intentionally or not, Larry Cebula has precisely echoed the voices of every developer I’ve ever heard in their ongoing tussles with preservationists. Ultimately, this isn’t a post about a casino, or even Gettysburg, it’s a post about declaring “Mission Accomplished” on historic preservation and moving on to our brave future of more strip malls. If you disagree, consider Cebula’s main points:

    1. “Why do we care what Sam Waterston and Matthew Broderick think about this? They are actors, people!” It’s easy, even fun, to make fun of actors pretending to be activists. South Park provides a first-class primer. But change the names and substitute “historians” or “Civil War buffs” for “actors” and you’re right back in that zoning hearing you went to, aren’t you? Dismissing preservationists as uninformed outside agitators, not really belonging in a hearing or community like our good local folks, is an old tactic.

    2. “The battlefield as it currently exists is hardly pristine….It is not as if the battlefield were immaculately preserved and about to be ruined.” In other words, once a site is no longer “pristine,” it should be open season. Why should someone else profit when I can’t? Is that American? (The Target diversion is a perfect example of this tactic in action, by the way. Target got to ruin a site, so the discussion ought to be over, unpack the roulette wheel).

    3. “My strongest objection to the video is the fetishistic treatment of warfare as a sacred activity more meaningful than other human activity.” That is, okay, a battle was fought here, but we need jobs here in Generictown! The past is the past, we live in the present! Etc. etc. This was the same argument used when a Georgia town’s governing board agreed to allow a K-Mart to go up on top of an unmarked but well-known soldier cemetery.

    4. “This is selective outrage. The proposed casino will be a half-mile from the boundaries of the park….” “Outside the boundaries” really takes us back to “open season”–that darn government’s got enough of our land already! And really, “a half-mile” sounds at least a little better than “an eight-minute walk,” doesn’t it?

    5. “My God, the over-the-top rhetoric in this video is terrible. It discredits not only the cause but the very idea of historic preservation.” There’s a right way to voice your concerns, and this isn’t it, folks. Too emotional, too imprecise. Let me show you the right way. At that point, the developer usually turns to his attorney, who knows the right way to talk to judges and boards. This too is a “class argument,” by the way.

    6. “Where does it end? There were perhaps 10,000 conflicts within the Civil War.” The punch line. Now, all together, what’s the phrase we’ve all heard? Say it with me: ‘Don’t we have enough parks now?’

    7. “The campaign to block the casino is not a legitimate effort of historic preservation. It is a moral panic being propagated by Puritan scolds. And it reminds me terribly of another current attempt to use history to block American citizens from exercising their rights to build a legal facility on their own land. Civil War Preservation Trust, meet Sarah Palin.” When in doubt, go after the preservationists politically and culturally. I admit, it’s a nice timely stroke to compare preservationists to Sarah Palin rather than the usual Al Gore and tree-huggers, at least given the expected audience.

    Whether Mr. Cebula meant to do it or not–and I won’t pretend to judge his intentions–this is a guest post that easily could have been written on a laptop perched on the back of a bulldozer.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 10, 2010 @ 6:51

      Thanks for the comment, Ken.

    • Margaret D. Blough Sep 10, 2010 @ 7:43

      Ken-Thank you! I’ve been through these wars since shortly after the beginning of the development of the current GNMP General Management Plan and its objective of substantial rehabilitation of the historic landscape, including the removal of some modern structures and, you’re right, the sense of deja vu in reading the guest editorial was overpowering, including the tone of jeering mockery and condescension towards us befuddled, naive souls who are impractical enough to actually CARE about historic perservation.

      One Note: The reason that the treehuggers aren’t invoked is probably that the environmentalists include people who hate battlefield landscape rehabilitation too. These particular environmentalists hate landscape rehabilitation because of the parts of landscape rehabilitation that require the removal of recent tree growth even though many trees are being planted in areas where they were at the time of the battle and became clear later. I’ve seen posts that quite seriously claim that the trees being removed from GNMP are the last barrier to global ecological catastrophe even though the new VC/Museum’s HVAC system is run by geothermal energy and the building has won environmental awards.

      • Ken Noe Sep 10, 2010 @ 8:52

        Margaret, I actually knew about the tree-cutting issue thanks to a section in the terrific dissertation that Jen Murray just wrote for me about the NPS years at Gettysburg. Once it’s published in book form, it will absolutely shape all of these Gettysburg debates.

        • Margaret D. Blough Sep 10, 2010 @ 10:16

          Ken, If it is possible. at some point, I’d love reading it. I actually have, during the time of the GMP process, kept a lot and obtained a lot of additional material, including the original submissions in response for the request for proposal (a reporter friend didn’t need his set any more and he gave me right of first refusal so I snatched it). and the 1977 ACHP report on land-use planning at Gettysburg.

          One thing that used to crack me up during the GMP fight were people who’d say it was a shame that Supt. Latschar and the NPS had to do this and create dissension between the town and the federal government. My response was “Create?!?!? This has been going on in one form or another since shortly ater the smoke cleared in July 1863”. It at least goes back to when the U.S. Provost Martial (1) posted notices that anything military on the battlefield, Confederate or Union, belonged to the federal government & anything already taken must be returned, and (2) conducted house to house searches for material that hadn’t been returned in response to the notice.

  • Corey Meyer Sep 10, 2010 @ 4:33

    I understand both side of this issue…but the above picture might just speak a 1,000 words literally!

  • Larry Cebula Sep 9, 2010 @ 21:22

    First of all, thanks to everyone for taking the time to read and respond to my post.

    Why do I object so much to the use of actors? Because they are making historical arguments on the basis of their celebrity. If they were offering medical advice or recommending stocks and bonds my reaction would be the same. The vacuous culture of celebrity makes us all more stupid. And as to Matt’s delightful image of “aging professors in tweed jackets harrumping and mumbling,” I’ll have you know that some of us are mesmerizing and natty dressers as well. Not me, but some of us.

    I should make a comment on my use of the phrase “moral panic.” The concept of moral panics was coined by sociologists in the 1980s and is defined in part as “controversies that involve arguments and social tension and in which disagreement is difficult because the matter at its center is taboo.” I think the irrationality of some of the arguments ( a casino a half-mile from Gettysburg will result in a casino at Arlington, for example), the moral language used in what should be a public policy debate (the casino “prostitutes” the site), and the moral outrage meant to prevent one from even questioning these arguments (“It is shameful for you to say that it is not a legitimate act of historic preservation”) all support my description of this issue as a moral panic. And once a moral panic is at hand one cannot disagree without risking social opprobrium. McCullough gets quite livid when he says that “we can’t just not care” about the men who died at Gettysburg–the implication being that if you are not on his side, you are a bad bad person.

    The casino traffic may be a legitimate issue, but it is not an issue raised in this video. My post is a critique of the video.

    Several of the responses skirt around the issue of class, which is also worth exploring. It is interesting that the two commercial developments near Civil War battlefields to draw the biggest protests are a casino and Walmart. But Target (or should I say Tar-jet?) gets a pass. Who goes to CW battlefields? Upper-middle class white people. The developers should have offered a plan to build a J. Crew store–no, a Whole Foods!–there would be no opposition.

    Finally, all this talk of honoring and dishonoring the dead got to me thinking. OK, what would the men who died at Gettysburg have thought of gambling? It is not much of a stretch to say that their opinions would have been divided. Card playing and other forms of gambling (along with tobacco, alcohol, and dancing) were particular bogeymen of 19th century evangelical Christians. But that group rarely constituted the majority of the population, and was certainly not the majority of either army.

    A quick search through Google Books (Gettysburg+battle+”playing cards” limited to full view) turns up a wealth of examples of Gettysburg soldiers gambling. My favorite discovery is a delightful book by C.W. Bardeen titled “A Little Fifer’s War Diary,” published in 1910. The book has an entire chapter titled “Gambling.” Some excerpts:

    “Winter idleness brought temptation, and to one of them I most unexpectedly yielded. It is my only excuse that there were others.

    April 17. Pleasant. Played Bluff at night for the first time, winning 65’cts.
    April I8. Pleasant. Still win at Bluff.
    April 19. Pleasant. Lent Baldwin 2.00 and Lydston 1.00. Inspection of Knapsack by Gen. Sickles.
    April 20 Pleasant. Still win at Bluff.
    April 21 Pleasant. Lost at Bluff as I was too green to see that the cards were stacked.”

    My favorite part is where the author interrupts his transcription of the diary to write: “I suppose my readers are surprised that I do not omit references to gambling, but I am telling what did happen, not what ought to have happened.”

    The entire chapter is fascinating, including both descriptions of gambling in the Union Army and a spirited and humorous defense of the practice. Bardeen later fought at Gettysburg, by which time he was “quite an expert gambler,” and surely he shuffled a deck or two on that sacred ground.

    • Craig Sep 10, 2010 @ 2:14

      With all due respect, I must ask what video you are watching when you write this:

      “The casino traffic may be a legitimate issue, but it is not an issue raised in this video. My post is a critique of the video.”

      The speakers mention traffic repeatedly. I’d guess about once every thirty seconds when it averages out. And the visuals of crowds, cars, and other forms of traffic are inserted behind the dialog as Ken Burns does well.

      • Larry Cebula Sep 10, 2010 @ 13:56

        Craig, this video is about traffic concerns the way the movie Titanic is about water safety. The overwhelming message of the video is ZOMG CASINO GAMBLING GETTYSBURG DEFILEMENT RED ALERT!

        • Craig Sep 10, 2010 @ 14:50

          Larry here’s what I see:
          4:28 – Steven Lang – “I have nothing against casinos.”
          4:42 – Matthew Broderick – “I can’t imagine there are not other places to put a casino that are more appropriate.”
          4:47 – Kristin Rice – Makes a case – the issue is the direct negative impact of the casino on the locality.
          5:05 – Image – the Vicksburg casino. Ken Burns technique here in play, as it is arguably the casino at its least attractive angle.
          5:12 – Image – Again Vicksburg and Ken Burns technique. We are taken from the casino to “traffic” in the form of a pawn shop. Implication – casino brings junk.
          5:21 – Susan Star Paddock – “This will destroy more jobs than it will provide.” Why? Because it will drive off tourists. Directly implied – Traffic. (we see near pastoral settings at Gettysburg CLEARLY taken at off hours)
          5:35 – Mrs Eisenhower – again with the jobs.
          5:45 – While McCullough speaks we see…. traffic, traffic. McCullugh says “it will change the atmosphere.” I’d have used the word “setting” but he’s certainly better with words than I.
          6:00 – the kid (and I didn’t get his name) – laments the change would take away the “neighborhood friendly feeling” – What would? Increased traffic.
          6:18 – Stephanie Mendenhall – She’s half a block from the site. “Dubious honor of seeing all the lights and hearing all the sounds…” Again, traffic.
          6:56 – Ken Burns – “Give us the buffer zone.” Translation – keep the traffic and distractions away.
          7:00 – Didn’t get the name of the Gettysburg Resident – Makes what is in my opinion the hard pitch – Points out the developer started out attempting to put it 1 mile out, now is a half mile out. She’s drawing blood here. But making the point, keep the big development away from the field.

          In short only ONE person talks about the ills of gambling, and arguably she’s in a position to state something authoritative on that subject. Otherwise it is clear – traffic, encroachment seem to be the talking points. And I could go on and on with this. As I’ve said earlier this is more about “reservation” than anything.

    • Margaret D. Blough Sep 10, 2010 @ 3:12

      Larry=The class argument is bogus. I don’t recall a major controversy involving Target but any Wal-Mart controversy has involved Wal-Mart’s choice of location. In terms of the Wilderness/Chancellorsville battlefield there have been controversies involving an unsuccessful fight against a very upscale housing development (whose big concession is that it will allow groups to make arrangements to access an area where Longstreet’s flank march occurred.)

      All land uses are not identical which is why zoning exists. It may not matter to you whether or not the plot next door to you becomes a nature park or a commercial pig farm but it actually does to a lot of people. A legitimate issue is the amount and the KIND of traffic that a use attracts. As for gambling, I’ve made it clear that I’m not one who has a major moral issue with gambling, per se. However, using your reasoning, since both drug abuse (in terms of opiates) and even more so the use of prostitutes were rampant among Civil War soldiers, if either or both were legal in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you would dismiss opponents as being in a “moral panic” should someone want to put in a brothel or opium den near the battlefield.

      Why does it have to be an either/or proposition on morality and preservation anyhow? Most preservationists recognize that totally perfect preservation is quite often not possible. The battle then comes over what is and is not a compatible use.

      • Craig Sep 10, 2010 @ 6:17

        And more to Margaret’s point, the Target didn’t get built at Camp Letterman, and opposition to that project was just as strong, and from the same groups as are in the no-casino effort today… well save one notable organization, but that is another subject.

        As for “moral panic” in the message tone then vs. now – I have in my files a letter on CWPT stationary with a very passionate plea from the organization’s president. No surprise there, as those are included in every CWPT effort. That letter uses some of the exact phrases involved for the current no-casino message. Again, no surprise there.

        Why wasn’t there a video against Target? Simple, the CWPT’s tactics have evolved over time. There staff has become more “web aware” since 2007 to produce some very effective marketing tools. When Target-Camp Letterman was an issue, the staff’s primary way of getting the message out was still Civil War News and direct mailing. So no it had nothing to do with class/demographics. Had to do with the technology that the organization’s staff was comfortable with.

        Using the Target example as a foil against the no-casino efforts is for all intents a mute argument.

      • Larry Cebula Sep 10, 2010 @ 13:51

        Margaret, you mention zoning. I support zoning. But if the residents of Gettysburg establish zoning laws that allow this casino, are we all OK with the casino?

        • Margaret D. Blough Sep 10, 2010 @ 15:47

          No. Zoning in most municipalities is very subject to political pressure and developer campaign contributions. It’s the reason why there is so much emphasis on acquiring easements which run with the land and are not affected by zoning. Another common tactic is called checkerboarding. In some cases, it is simply not financially possible to buy up all the land needed either absolutely or buy easements or there are people simply unwilling to sell. Checkerboarding acquires suficient smaller tracts or interests in them sufficient to prevent any developer from acquiring a large enough amount of land to put anything major in.

          BTW, to be strictly accurate, this does not involve the residents of Gettysburg. The land is in Cumberland Township as is most of the park.

    • John Sep 10, 2010 @ 3:20

      The people of Gettysburg should be the ones to decide if a casino is opened. They are the ones that will have to deal with the social ills that come from such an establishment. Historians are irrelevent in the discussion.

  • MississippiLawyer Sep 9, 2010 @ 21:17

    Not that it matters, but his ancestor was actually killed during Peachtree Creek, but he and his regiment, the 20th Conn., did fight in Slocum’s corps at Gettysburg.

  • JJ Sep 9, 2010 @ 16:48

    The reason it is important for celebrities to speak out is that it makes the public aware of something they may not have heard on the news or other media sources.

    I’m not sure about Waterston, but Matthew Broderick does have a family interest in the Battle of Gettysburg. His great grandfather fought and died there and is buried on or around those grounds. He filmed a program called “Who Do You Think You Are” this past tv season and he traced his ancestory back to Gettysburg. So aside from the fact he’s a actor who appeared in a Civil War movie, he has a right as a decendent of a Gettyburg hero to fight this proposed plan. Please do your homework before you make comments on your blog.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2010 @ 16:55

      I thoroughly enjoyed the Broderick program. I can’t speak for Larry, but no one is arguing that Broderick doesn’t have the right to speak out. The point that I would emphasize is that his presence does not add anything to the moral weight of the argument because of his celebrity status.

      • Margaret D. Blough Sep 9, 2010 @ 20:55

        Kevin- Larry’s statement “Why do we care what Sam Waterston and Matthew Broderick think about this? They are actors, people! They only pretended to have fought at Gettysburg. McCullough was the only real historian they used for the production. Show me David Blight and we’ll talk.” doesn’t sound like support of Broderick’s right to speak out.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 10, 2010 @ 1:11


          I don’t read it that way.

      • Larry Cebula Sep 9, 2010 @ 22:08

        Broderick will be forever honored in my household as Ferris Bueller, but let us remember that Bueller skipped history class. And the way he treated Cameron is indefensible.

        These points are exactly as relevant as the fact that Broderick had an ancestor at Gettysburg. You gain no moral virtue from your ancestry.

  • Eric Jacobson Sep 9, 2010 @ 14:17


    With all due respect, and just to use one example so as to not be tedious, I do not think David McCullough’s issue is with gambling. It is with the casino. I would hope he would feel the same way if it were a WalMart or McDonald’s. Others may well be opposed to gambling, but not all opposition is morality based.

    • Larry Cebula Sep 9, 2010 @ 22:02

      Eric: So what is the thing that happens at a casino, other than gambling, to which McCullough objects? You make an important point that not all opposition is morality based, but there is no other reason for opposition given in the video, except when one neighbor of the proposed casino complains that she will see the lights from her property.

      • Eric Jacobson Sep 10, 2010 @ 3:34

        Last time I was in a casino gambling occurs, aside from a performance from some awful band. But I digress. I still maintain that the base opposition to this, by McCullough and many others, is not what goes on inside so much as the construction of a business/building right up against park boundaries. I can speak only for myself, but I would be just as offended if someone wanted to build a Walgreens where this casino is proposed. On the hand, perhaps your objection is not so much to “moral panic,” but the manner in which the CWPT crafted their message. The CWPT deals with relentless and opportunistic developers every day. I say more power to them to stop them in any legal fashion necessary. 🙂

  • Timothy Orr Sep 9, 2010 @ 13:36

    There seem to be two separate issues up to debate in this post. The first involves whether or not preservationists should even be contesting the development of the Gettysburg casino. The second issue relates to the tactics used by the CWPT. In regards to the latter, I think it is foolish for preservationists to argue among themselves. Perhaps the CWPT video is too sappy, but we should respect the CWPT’s effort; all they have done is employ a tactic that they believe will work. If we spend our energy debating ourselves as to the “appropriate” way to curry favor, the “no casino” movement will fracture. Readers might well make use of the history of twentieth century social movements to find historic parallels. How many of America’s successful social movements employed multiple styles of tactics? Nearly all, yes? To question the CWPT’s video seems like an unnecessary way of making an enemy out of an honest and vigilant ally.

    As to Larry’s statement: “The campaign to block the casino is not a legitimate effort of historic preservation.” Preservation professionals are well aware of the kinds of development that threaten battlefield land. Sure, ice cream shops and souvenir stores in Gettysburg are anachronistic, and in all fairness, they should be removed; but preservation cannot realistically delete each and every business from the borough and county. They must save their heaviest artillery to combat the most dangerous styles of development. As a former resident of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, (I lived there for about nine years) I believe it is every Gettysburgian’s duty to act as a steward of the battlefield. To be a resident of Gettysburg means undertaking the selfless task of protecting the battlefield so that future generations can enjoy it. Ultimately, this means incurring sacrifices to ensure the battlefield’s survival. If that means missing out on a casino and all the supposed “jobs” that are to result from it, then so be it. I think it will be a sad day if my former neighbors fail in their mission. If any of this makes me a “Puritan scold,” then so be it.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2010 @ 13:43

      Hi Timothy,

      Thanks so much for the comment. You said: “To be a resident of Gettysburg means undertaking the selfless task of protecting the battlefield so that future generations can enjoy it. Ultimately, this means incurring sacrifices to ensure the battlefield’s survival. If that means missing out on a casino and all the supposed “jobs” that are to result from it, then so be it.”

      That’s a pretty strong moral claim on the residents of Gettysburg, given that some of them support the casino. I wonder if you could share your argument behind such a conclusion. Thanks.

      • Timothy Orr Sep 9, 2010 @ 16:40

        I must admit, my statement is a personal opinion and nothing more. The way I see it, the citizens of Gettysburg are of two minds when it comes to the battlefield’s interrelationship with the community. Some share the opinion of my moralistic challenge. They consider the battlefield a precious resource; to them, the circumstance of their residency is a call to arms to protect the battlefield. Other inhabitants see the battlefield as an intrusion. Each summer, the town is inundated with hundreds of thousands of tourists. As we know, to most Civil War buffs, the Civil War is Gettysburg. Naturally, it is the first place they visit; the allure of the battle draws them to the site. So, some Gettysburg residents view this seasonal imposition as “sufficient sacrifice” for them to seek ways in which they can take back from the battlefield. Quite simply, they use tourists’ interest in the battle to boost their private industry. In their minds, they see this as a reciprocal relationship. Thus, you see ghost tours, carriage rides, outlet malls, (and now the casino) and a host of other businesses that pass as popular culture. It is their means of extracting from the battlefield a form of restitution for an annual period of inconvenience. Of course, some residents fall in between these two extremes, leaving room for a gradation of opinion. Probably, I shouldn’t be so heavy-handed. It is a mere difference in outlook that separates me from the pro-casino crowd, but I’d like to hope that Gettysburgians will understand that their connection with the battlefield should one in which they give back, not take.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2010 @ 16:47


          I completely understand. Much of what you have to say resonates with me. I was just wondering whether you had taken the time to think it further. Thanks for the response.

          • Timothy Orr Sep 9, 2010 @ 16:52

            A pleasure as always. Many thanks you for running this site and letting concerned historians from both sides speak their minds.

    • Raffi Sep 9, 2010 @ 14:03


      Your point about the sacrifices is even stronger when one pauses to consider how relatively small those sacrifices are, given that the decades of economic thriving in Gettysburg are precisely due to the battlefield. In other words, the battlefield is a significantly contributing factor when you consider why Gettysburg is not more like Littlestown, PA. Thus, given that the battlefield has caused (not hindered) so much economic profit and growth in Gettysburg, to ask that residents sacrifice such a comparatively smaller economic spark is not much, especially when such a sacrifice can contribute to the continued health of the resource (and thus continued sustaining of said economy, in the larger picture) that has significantly helped make Gettysburg what it is — and that’s largely an economic argument, not strictly a historical or moral one.

  • Matt McKeon Sep 9, 2010 @ 12:39

    A video on a political issue uses well known actors? And makes an emotional appeal? America’s innocence is lost!

    Seriously, dude, that’s exactly what a political video is supposed to be doing. By all means I wish we had a few aging professors in tweed jackets harrumping and mumbling, really that would have been more pure, or something. But when you are trying to sway public opinion, the video is doing the job.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2010 @ 12:46


      How do you know this particular “video is doing the job”? How are you measuring success?

  • Larry Cebula Sep 9, 2010 @ 9:29

    Thanks, Kevin, for running this. The background to this post is that I wrote it for my own blog and ran the draft by Kevin for his input. He graciously offered to cross-post it here. A slightly more polished and formatted version appears on my own blog Northwest History at

    Peter: If I am being provocative, I am FAR less provocative than the CWPT video, which is hysterical. And you kind of confirm my point when you write of the casino as a “perverted commercial enterprise.” And I never wrote that I don’t think the casino should be built. I don’t like gambling, but there are a lot of legal things I neither endorse nor try to prevent.

    Margaret: Good point about the boundaries. Maybe the CWPT can raise the money to buy the land and add it to the park. But right now, the proposed casino is private land, not in the park. If you want a buffer zone, buy a buffer zone.

    Eric: I think this is a moral panic because the anti-casino forces are opposed to gambling. If this was not a casino, there would not be a fraction of the opposition. The video makes this crystal clear, watch it again if you don’t believe me. It is not a historic preservation issue because no history is being threatened. This is a change of use of an existing commercial development.

    Brian: I have no doubt the casino developers want to take advantage of the traffic flow–as does every other business in Gettysburg.

    Craig and Kyle: Traffic flow may be a real local issue and could be dealt with locally. Towns and cities all over the country deal with the issue everyday. It is not a matter of historic preservation.

    • James F. Epperson Sep 9, 2010 @ 9:42

      “If this was not a casino, there would not be a fraction of the opposition. ” I’m not so sure. The issue is not gambling per se, but the high traffic volume which a casino would bring. If you want a vision of what this means to the surrounding community, go to Ledyard, CT, where the Foxwoods casino has spawned a mega-development that still troubles the entire area. The folks opposed to the Wal-Mart near the Wilderness do not object to low-priced retail outlets, they object to the high-volume traffic flow so close to the Wilderness park.

      • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2010 @ 9:50


        It’s a good point, but keep in mind that Larry is responding to the video in this post.

        • Harry Sep 9, 2010 @ 11:46

          Jim is right – the issue IS high traffic. However, I challenge anyone to find that message prominently expressed in either of the videos. First and foremost is the impression of “threatened” battlefield land, which any casual viewer will interpret to mean battlefield land upon which the casino is proposed to be built. Other messages appeal to fears associated with the “element” attendant to casinos, a deterioration of the fabric of the surrounding society.

          We need to be clear in our message – why do we oppose the casino? Let’s keep the rhetoric to a minimum, even if we suspect we can’t “win” without it. We should be using the same rationale for opposing this project that we would use to oppose a factory or any other high traffic project on the same site.

          • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2010 @ 13:14


            Yes, as far as I am concerned this is the CWPT’s best argument. Beyond that I could care less whether there is a casino at this location. I can’t imagine how it would negatively impact on my experience of the battlefield. The question of whether it is desirable is ultimately up to the people who live there.

      • JMR Sep 9, 2010 @ 12:03

        “I’m not so sure” And I’m pretty sure that moral issues DO greatly enter into play and help fuel the debate.

        Compare the backlash to the first Casino to the Target project which followed immediately thereafter. The Target project was largely (if not completely) ignored by the No Casino group and led to the clear-cutting of Camp Letterman’s remaining Hospital Woods and near-construction of the Target. The only thing that stalled that project was, really, a bum economy.

    • Margaret D. Blough Sep 9, 2010 @ 11:01

      Larry-Re: >>Craig and Kyle: Traffic flow may be a real local issue and could be dealt with locally. Towns and cities all over the country deal with the issue everyday. It is not a matter of historic preservation.<< You could not be more wrong on this point. Try going to Manassas NB which now has a major commuter routes running through it and which periodically has to fight its very pro-highway local Congressman who keeps wanting to carve out areas of battlefield to widen the highways. It's next to impossible to go directly from Henry Hill to Chinn Ridge which is just across a road from Henry Hill because of the traffic. There are quite a few areas in the park that you take your life in your hands if you are in a car and want to slow down or park to see something or travel by foot or bicycle. Development also tends to follow high volume traffic.

      Gettysburg seems periodically hellbent on killing the goose that laid the golden egg and/or taking the historic tourists so for granted that locals believe that no matter how crappy the tourists are treated, they'll keep coming.. Things could be better economically there but, compared to a lot of areas of Pennsylvania, Gettysburg's economy is thriving and relatively stable and, in large part, it's because of historic tourism.. Historic tourism brings money in while requiring relatively little in tax money for services in return. I've been to Atlanta and, if it had not been for the rest of the trip which included better preserved areas such as Kennesaw Mountain, I could have saved my money and stayed home and read about it. After a while, there doesn't seem to be any point to getting off a bus to look at a plaque telling me what USED to be at that site.

    • Craig Sep 9, 2010 @ 12:03

      I will again concede the point that this is not a preservation issue. No argument there. But you summarize the main thrust of your post by saying:

      “I think this is a moral panic because the anti-casino forces are opposed to gambling. If this was not a casino, there would not be a fraction of the opposition”

      In your post or responses thus far, lacking is the linkage between the anti-gaming community (and I am speaking specifically here of groups such as NCALG) and the preservation organizations mentioned. Was there a CWPT press conference that I missed? Did Jim Lighthizer take a sledge hammer to a roulette wheel?

      Similarly, have any of the actors or personalities in the video known for their anti-gaming stances?
      Yes, Matthew Broderick played a gambling addict in a movie; but he’s also played a scientist and a computer hacker, neither roles mimic his real life behavior. And sure, “Hang’em High” McCoy has prosecuted a few gamblers on Law and Order, but Sam Waterston doesn’t mind schilling for the biggest organized gambling scheme ever (oh, it’s “day trading”… riiiggghhhtttt….)

      Where is the proof of this linkage between anti-gambling moralists and the preservation community? Or is it a case where the preservation community has always held this puritanical view of society (and it is just now emerging)?

      • Larry Cebula Sep 9, 2010 @ 22:14

        Craig: The proof is he CWPT video, particularly starting at minute 4:00 and ending around 6:00. Seriously, watch tat section again and tell me I am wrong. And they give no reason to be opposed to the casino except that it is a casino and is near the battlefield.

        I expand the moral panic argument in a post below.

        • Craig Sep 10, 2010 @ 2:02

          Larry, you are going to base your entire argument on two minutes of video? And I’ve watched that section over and over now. Just don’t see the emphasis on “evil gambling” in the frame of some moral imperative. Only one person in the section you reference, Mrs. Rice (the local public defender), remotely advances some moral argument along the lines you are calling into question.

          Indeed, no less – let me put that in all caps because this collapses your argument completely – NO LESS than eleven times in the video the individuals say they would not oppose the casino if it were placed anywhere else. I would submit, based on past behavior of the groups involved, that is indeed the case. The resistance to the casino goes up in proportion to its proximity to the battlefield. Look at the dialog and activity associated with the last few times the casino has been proposed at Gettysburg.

          None of the preservation groups raised so much as a press release when a casino was placed in Chester, PA, which is close to several Revolutionary War battlefields. If your premise is correct, that these people are simply opposing a casino and using battlefield preservation as a prop, then the same groups/individuals would have been active in opposition there (although without as much leverage from the preserved battlefield aspect).

          And in the two minute section you reference, there are seven statements where the respective speaker is advancing the “traffic” argument. (And I would consider the pawn shop clip in the same line – traffic. I’m sure you would read into it what you want).

          For your argument to work, you need to offer some examples where the individuals in the video have spoken, or taken other public stances, against gaming. Don’t seem to be any Falwells or Pat Robertsons in that group. In short, I’ve seen nothing in your post or in your replies that supports the premise made. As I often say to those “1000s of Black Confederate” references, you must provide more than thin air in order to make a convincing case.

          • Jonathan Dresner Sep 10, 2010 @ 4:33

            Indeed, no less – let me put that in all caps because this collapses your argument completely – NO LESS than eleven times in the video the individuals say they would not oppose the casino if it were placed anywhere else.

            But the value of the casino is a function of the traffic it can bring through its doors: development-ready land suitable for large operations near large transient popuations isn’t exactly a common commodity. “Placed anywhere else” is the kiss of death for an economically viable operation.

          • Larry Cebula Sep 10, 2010 @ 13:48

            Craig: You misunderstand me and no doubt that is my fault for not being more clear. I am not arguing that the casino opponents are not against gambling everywhere, I am arguing that they are opposed to this particular commercial development because it involves gambling at what they consider a sacred site. It is the combination of something they don’t like and its happening at a place they hold holy that cause the opposition. Which I think they pretty much admit, yes? And they are entitled to think that, but the argument only makes sense if you hold both beliefs–that gambling is awful and that Gettysburg is sacred.

            • Craig Sep 10, 2010 @ 14:19

              Larry I got your point very clearly, thank you. The point that I’ve made, and you don’t seem to wish to address is that your argument lacks any evidence. What exactly makes this effort different than the dozens of others? And where is the aversion to gaming from those previous cases (Oh, yes, this is not the first time the Harley-Davidson guy has made this attempt.)? Again, cite specific quotes and build a case. You SHOULD be able to construct a very deliberate argument here. Thus far all you’ve said is “watch the video.” Well, sir, I don’t see the “moral panic”, and apparently a lot of other folks don’t either.

              • Larry Cebula Sep 11, 2010 @ 9:53

                Craig: Between my initial post and my replies here I have defined the term moral panic and given examples from both this video and the discussion here that fit the definition. You are free to disagree with my argument but it is silly to pretend that I have not offered evidence.

                • Craig Sep 12, 2010 @ 11:31

                  “You are free to disagree with my argument but it is silly to pretend that I have not offered evidence.”

                  I’m not pretending that you did not offer evidence. I am stating fact. If you disagree, feel free to post something that supports your argument. There is but one person in the entire video who expresses even a remote moral outrage at “gaming.” That is balanced by several who openly state they are not offended in the least by the general concept of a casino. And that is layered within statements with visualizations hinting at the congestion and visual pollution that would arrive with the Casino.

                  My conclusion is you are reading way too much into the video, and are now unwilling to amend what was probably a hasty evaluation. At the same time, your statements allude to what is perhaps a personal bias here. The political statement at the end of the post, coupled with the suggestion of class/race in a later comment, is interesting. And perhaps lead us to the real reason you find the video so objectionable.

    • Kyle Pfalzer Sep 9, 2010 @ 15:06

      Since the high traffic could bring negative consequences on the National Park, I don’t see it as a local issue. I’d hate to sound too lofty, but this is every American’s battlefield. Do a few local officials on a borough council or county commission have the right to compromise the integrity of a historical site of national significance? I suppose they do, albeit indirectly. But what I think we all can agree on is that they shouldn’t.

      Think about the line of reasoning used in this post, as well as many other venues- “Well xyz is already there, so what does it matter if this goes in?” Now, if that’s a valid argument with “the Cannonball Olde Tyme Malt Shop and Dirty Billy’s Hats,” how will it be when it’s “Well there’s a big awful gaudy casino there, so who cares?” I just see this as opening the door for a more serious encroachment on the battlefield in the longer term.

    • Margaret D. Blough Sep 9, 2010 @ 20:52

      Larry=The CWPT and one of its predecessor organizations, the Civil War Trust, have done a great deal in terms of purchasing land along with other preservation organizations.. BTW, there is still privately owned land within park boundaries. The drawing of the park boundaries didn’t change any ownership.

      A great deal of the economic health of the Gettysburg area depends on the tourism that the GNMP attracts. A town Gettysburg’s size does not get 6 exits on Route 15 just because it’s a county seat with two colleges and a seminary. Zoning and and land use planning that actually looks at the long range future of the area instead of just quick gain and the protection of this significant asset should be a concern for the authorities in the area, not just the NPS and the preservation organizations. .

  • Margaret D. Blough Sep 9, 2010 @ 9:11

    Kevin-The whole subject of historic preservation is a complex one, worthy of serious debate. Reasonable people can differ and differ strongly about what should be preserved, how, and why. The problem I have with you posting this as a guest editorial is that I don’t think it actually advances or even intends to advance serious debate and that any serious debate that results will be despite the language of the guest editorial, not because of it. I found the tone to be snide, insulting and deliberately offensive to those who oppose the casino and even to people who support battlefield preservation in general whether they have a position on the casino or not. The author clearly is unable to understand that supporting battlefield preservation does not mean that one glorifies war.

  • MississippiLawyer Sep 9, 2010 @ 8:56

    What’s the difference in a Popeye’s chicken with a flashing sign that is right across the street from the Visitor’s Center at Vicksburg (and therefore actually ON the battlefield) and a Casino half a mile away from Gettysburg?

    • Craig Sep 9, 2010 @ 9:17

      First, Popeye’s does not have flashing signs, you might be thinking of Bojangles.

      Second, Popeye’s serves, and I will quote their company press releases, “authentic recipes dating back more than a hundred years shaped by our Cajun and Creole heritage.” So a three piece and a biscuit, or perhaps a shrimp and catfish combo, is like getting a living history lesson in every box! 😉

    • James L. Bain Sep 9, 2010 @ 9:24

      Obviously, no one was able to forestall construction/location of the Popeye’s Chicken.

    • James F. Epperson Sep 9, 2010 @ 9:30

      The difference is in the amount of stress put on the battlefield. The Popeye’s in your example will draw a fraction of the traffic that a casino will, so (IMO) the casino is the greater threat to the park.

  • Kyle Pfalzer Sep 9, 2010 @ 7:58

    With regard to the “buffer zone” mentioned, I think a good example of this kind of area for a battlefield with the importance of Gettysburg would be Antietam. We are fortunate not to have development bordering Antietam because of ISTEA funds used back in the 90’s. The properties preserved then provide a buffer of more than a half mile- the proposed distance of the Gettysburg casino.

    Having not only the battlefield but the surrounding area be undeveloped is important for a greater understanding of not just the battle but the larger campaign. They enable wayside markers like Civil War Trails to not be in strip mall parking lots, but in well preserved areas that look much as they did during the war. I think for local community interest in Civil War battlefields these small sites can have a big impact.

    The casino would sprout gas stations, fast food joints and all sorts of other development all along that stretch of the Emmitsburg Road. I work in Gettysburg and pass by the proposed casino site on my commute everyday, and it’s probably the best preserved approach route to Gettysburg. True, the Eisenhower is already there and built, but the development that would follow a bustling casino could certainly border the park and detract from it.

    • Margaret D. Blough Sep 9, 2010 @ 9:04

      And, if you want to see the example of a site where there is no buffer, go to Manassas Natl. Battlefield which is incredibly stressed. You can’t even cross the road between the VC on Henry Hill and Chinn Ridge section of the battlefield without taking your life in your hands. A good friend of mine often sadly says that, contrary to what many say, Virginia DOES care about preserving its historic sites; that’s why it’s covering them all with cement.

    • Larry Cebula Sep 9, 2010 @ 14:59

      Kyle: “the Eisenhower is already there”

      Aha–so that is where Susan Eisenhower comes into this!

      • Margaret D. Blough Sep 9, 2010 @ 20:37

        Actually, Susan Eisenhower spent a considerable portion of her childhood at Gettysburg on her paternal grandparents’ farm.

  • Craig Sep 9, 2010 @ 7:35

    I guess in general I’m still not motivated over this issue to express more than concern over the impact to traffic flow, light and viewshed pollution, and just in general the gaudiness of a casino. And I would agree with you this is not a preservation issue – more of a “reservation” issue, if I may turn a phrase.

    As James Epperson mentioned, the effect of a casino at Vicksburg (where the battlefield was more drastically altered by the river than by anything man has done), has had measurable negative effect. Still I can understand those who don’t think the Gettysburg Casino is properly a preservation issue of concern. Certainly I would agree the “branding of Gettysburg” has taken things to a distasteful and repugnant level that I think we all find troubling.

    You draw the valid (and very often made) point that the battlefield is not in a pristine condition. No news there. To that I say that a battlefield is much like a painting in the gallery. Some will view it and will complain the impression is pale compared to a photograph. Others will see depth, expression and meaning. Be it a work of art or a battlefield, the visitor gets out of the experience what their imagination allows. Or in simpler terms, I don’t have to smell rotting horse flesh to relate to the historical scene.

    But when you say, “My strongest objection to the video is the fetishistic treatment of warfare as a sacred activity more meaningful than other human activity.” Well, I don’t get that same impression from the video, and would ask if you can elaborate and support the premise. Just sounds like you have an axe to grind, and are using this opportunity. In short, you seem to use your own moral outrage to argue against someone else’s.

    To be sure, I don’t and have never bought into the whole “sacred ground” premise. If we go that route, then I want a formal declaration of what society will define as sacred, and by converse profane, before mowing my yard. Yes, as you say this has less to do with preservation than some would have us think. But I would not call this some Puritanical movement. The evidence really doesn’t support such a conclusion.

  • Brian W. Schoeneman Sep 9, 2010 @ 7:10

    The concern I have is the motivation of the builders. It seems to me that the primary motivation for wanting to put a casino near the battlefield is to take advantage of the battlefield’s 2 million visitors a year. Most people coming to and from the battlefield are going to have to pass by the Casino (there’s a good infrastructure argument there). It seems like this proposal is just a cynical attempt to generate visitors quickly by taking advantage of the historic nature of the battlefield itself in generating customers to the Casino.

    Is there anything wrong with that? Well, I think it’s a cheap move – kind of like a squeegee guy taking advantage of a long stop light to make a few bucks off people passing through.

    I also think it’s going to be difficult for them to not try and work the battlefield into the shtick of the casino, and I think that would be disrespectful – it’s a battlefield and a memorial, not a gimmick.

    This isn’t like a ghost tour or a souvenir shop – it’s going to take a lot of money and a lot of planning and a big company with a big bankroll to build a casino. It’s over-commercialization.

    And, of course, you’ve got the fundamental issue that that battlefield holds an emotional attachment for a lot of people, for a variety of reasons, and people don’t want to see it cheapened. That’s an emotional argument and there’s not a lot of logic there, but it’s a potent one.

    Those are my main issues for disliking the idea. But I have to admit that I’m having a hard time being fair, because I can also see the other side and I know the region needs the jobs. It’s a tough issue.

  • Richard Williams Sep 9, 2010 @ 6:46

    I agree with Kevin regarding the opinion of movie stars. Their opinion, just because they acted in a CW movie, is no more important than anyone else in this matter. I always cringe when Hollywood types appear at Congressional hearings as “experts” – same here. (Though I also understand the PR aspect of this)

    However, I agree with the overall sentiment expressed by Professor Carmichael. Mr. Cebula’s comments are way off base, for all the reasons expressed by Peter. In cases like this, I often find my respect for private property rights at odds with my passionate interest in historic preservation. I’ve not totally come to terms with that conflict. That being said, the casino is a terrible idea and, hopefully, public outcry and opposition would influence those who, though have the right to build the casino, will choose not to exercise it in this case. Though there are aspects of the video which could be improved, I applaud CWPT for this effort.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2010 @ 7:09

      Thanks for chiming in, Richard, but please remember that I am not the author of this post.

      • Richard Williams Sep 9, 2010 @ 7:44

        Kevin – I understand. I was just agreeing with your opinion on “movie stars” being featured in the video.

      • Richard Williams Sep 9, 2010 @ 7:46

        Kevin – oops, my mistake. I thought you had mentioned the actors. I see now Cebula did. So I do agree with him on THAT aspect of his post.

        Sorry about that.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2010 @ 8:02

          Not a problem since I also agree with that sentiment.

    • Margaret D. Blough Sep 9, 2010 @ 8:59

      One point that needs to be made on private property rights. The NPS and/or preservation organizations buying interests in land to turn over to the park service must first try, within the park boundaries, to acquire interests in land through negotiation which means that, when a transfer does occur, the seller is receiving what they agree is a fair price for it. Quite often, the transfer does not involve an absolute transfer of the ownerhship of the land. It involves a development easement limiting acceptable development or the even more restrictive historic easement. Obviously, the more control that is surrendered, the higher the price. Only rarely, and the approval process is very complex, does the NPS resort to eminent domain when a critical area of battlefield is involved and a use either exists or is planned that is highly inconsistent with maintaining a historic landscape. Even then, the former owner must receive just compensation and, if agreement can’t be reached on the amount, the courts will fix it as they did in the condemnation of the National Tower. The benefit of the easements is that ownership remains in private hands and the property remains on the tax roles.

  • Rob Wick Sep 9, 2010 @ 6:07

    While I do not want to see a casino at Gettysburg, I wish I could feel the outrage this topic generates. I can’t. As I’ve said several times, historical sites are often not the same as they were when the actual event took place, but the site is only a part of what makes the event significant. When people go to Springfield and see the Old State Capitol where Lincoln gave his “House Divided” speech, they are not in the same room where he was nor do they tread on the same boards. The only portion of the Old State Capitol that is original is the outside facade. The inside was completely gutted and recreated after being used by the city of Springfield. Does that take away from the history which happened there? Not for me.

    It seems that many people in this controversy feel like if an inch is given in the debate, then the entire battlefield will somehow be spoiled. Again, I can’t agree with that. Then again, I’m one of those people who, no matter how hard I try, just can’t put myself in the 1860s and feel what the soldiers felt. Part of the reason is the roads which run through the battlefield. If people wanted to make it true to the experience, the National Park Service would have to require people to walk the field instead of drive through it.

    The National Park Service in Springfield has shut off the street where Lincoln’s house is located in an attempt to recreate what it might have looked like in his life, yet no one is fooled. The cars whizzing by just a few hundred feet from the front door ruins any type of effect they may be after.

    Historic sites belong to the people, yet we can’t let our desire to be able to live in the past blind us to the fact that we live in the present. Somewhere there has to be a happy medium. After all, it was our failure to compromise which brought us to Gettysburg and other plots of “hallowed ground” in the first place.


  • James F. Epperson Sep 9, 2010 @ 5:14

    To see the impact a casino has on nearby historic property, just visit Vicksburg

    • Ken Noe Sep 9, 2010 @ 7:11

      Or Natchez. Or Biloxi.

  • Emily Adams Sep 9, 2010 @ 4:12

    Developers have been trying to get a casino in my town for years, and the residents here don’t want it. And I don’t even live near a historic battlefield. Few people want a casino where they live. I’ve been to them in Oklahoma, they are quintessential white-trash hubs. Quite a difference from an ice cream shop or a hat shop.

    Its amazing to see people, who don’t even live in these towns, criticize the residents for not wanting certain establishments built in their own hometown. I know i would be pissed at someone in another part of the country criticizing my opinion of whether I want a casino in my own town or not.

    • John Sep 9, 2010 @ 11:28

      “quintessential white-trash hubs”
      Calling human beings trash. Amazing. A term that comes from the slave and his master.

  • Eric Jacobson Sep 9, 2010 @ 3:41

    I simply could not disagree more. I do not understand how you (Larry) can truly think this issue is founded in moral panic. This is a preservation issue. Believe me, living and working in the historic and preservation community in Franklin, TN gives me a unique perspective, frankly one that you could never have. I am not in a moral panic about the ridiculous established and ongoing development in Franklin and Spring Hill, and neither are the folks who don’t want the casino built at Gettysburg. For you to feel that the folks raising opposition to this are comparable to Sarah Palin is, well, in plain terms, laughable.

  • Peter Carmichael Sep 9, 2010 @ 3:33

    I am utterly baffled by your objections to this movie and your post reads like you are being provocative just for the sake of being provocative. No historical site, as you well know, stays pristine and I can’t see how that weakens any case for preservation anywhere, even if we are surrounded at Gettysburg by all kinds of perverted commercial enterprises. You know why actors are used. That’s who Americans listen to, for better or for worse, and CWPT is trying to shape pubic opinion in a high stakes political battle. Taking your high road would guarantee defeat so your objections are naive at best. No one on this film, moreover, is celebrating the loss of life at Gettysburg as a tribute to that bone-deep belief that as a people we find ourselves through organized warfare. People, in finding something redemptive about Gettysburg, actually find a deeper sense of meaning and a stronger sense of obligation to being a citizen. Is that really such a bad thing? Your post is a perfect example of an American culture that is consumed by hyper-criticallness when in fact these are people who have deeply held beliefs and they are not inspired by some moral panic. It is shameful for you to say that it is not a legitimate act of historic preservation, but then you, interestingly enough, claim that you don’t think the casino should be built I guess you are one of those Puritan scolds who you condemn. And finally just because a casino is legal doesn’t mean that they and members of Hollywood shouldn’t feel outraged. I guess you forgot about Thoreau when you wrote the above or maybe you have become one of those property rights activist who doesn’t believe in zoning. There are times to stir the pot. I hope this was your motivation as it would be very unsettling to think that you actually believe the things that you wrote above.

    • Raffi Sep 9, 2010 @ 7:40

      Well said. I won’t repeat everything, you hit it on the head, Dr. Carmichael. But let me add what really jumps out at me within #6 of Kevin’s post. The slippery slope of “Where does it end?” is used to bulldoze and destroy battlefields all the time. C’mon, Kevin, this is only the largest battle of the war, so to even mention that as a point in your favor is mind boggling to me.

      Moreover, still within #6, the park’s boundaries do no represent the “federally defined battlefield” — they represent portions of the battlefield the park has so far been able to protect. Hence, why those boundaries have changed over time — the boundaries changed over time not because the federal government changed its mind on the size of the battlefield, the boundaries changed over time because what it has been able to protect from that battlefield has changed! To conflate the two is flat out deceptive — just like you accuse the anti-casino people of doing. For another example of this, see the recent deal on the Country Club:

      • Margaret D. Blough Sep 9, 2010 @ 8:50

        Raffi-Excellent point. The boundaries have been changed very recently. They had to be changed to allow the NPS to acquire Wills House (except for a limited amount of land around markers and/or monuments that were there before the most recent boundary act was passed; the NPS cannot, under the terms of the current law governing it, acquire legal interests in land outside of its boundaries.). From what I understand, as much, if not more, politics than history governed the setting of these boundaries which left much of the First Days’ battlefield (including, but not limited to, the Seminary, the college, and the borough itself which also saw gunfire exchanged throughout the battle) outside park boundaries. I’m not sure of its status, but legislation has also been proposed to amend the boundaries that would allow the NPS to acquire another historic building (i.e., the costs of maintaining and operating it), the Lincoln RR station.

    • Raffi Sep 9, 2010 @ 8:01

      One more thing, about #1. Why are you so opposed to the use of actors? Are they not allowed to have opinions, and to use their platform to advance causes they believe in? They are citizens, too, and they too are allowed to voice their opinions. Not everyone involved in a advocacy cause of any sort needs to be employed within that field. I suppose you also think that I, as a historian, cannot have a legitimate stance on, say, the environment.

      And has David Blight come out with a stance on the casino? If not, then of course he won’t be in there.

      I salute the actors for using their public platform to advance a cause they believe in — to show the public that even with all the fame and money they get today, they still value history.

      I suppose, Kevin, with this argument that you make, you should only ever blog about teaching the Civil War in the classroom (since that is your profession), rather than posting this piece on battlefield preservation. After all, you don’t work in the field, why does your opinion matter?

      Better yet, why blog at all; just like an actor’s opinion shouldn’t be used to influence the opinions of individuals within the public, so too should a teacher stick to teaching in the classroom rather than bothering to try to influence individuals in the public through public blog posts. Maybe that is really the answer to finally reaching an end to your on-going battle about the nonsense out there about black Confederates.

      • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2010 @ 8:23


        Do you understand that I am not the author of this post?

        • Raffi Sep 9, 2010 @ 13:50

          haha, I do, Kevin. But I got the impression you agreed quite a bit with it, given your post of yesterday:
          “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.”

          Sorry if I happened to misunderstand. I do think though that the same argument can apply to Larry too, since the argument isn’t personal, but rather it’s meant to highlight the faulty logic of the post. What I mean by that is that obviously the above questions of my last two paragraphs don’t mean to ask you to stop blogging… quite the contrary. The ridiculousness of what I’m saying in those questions is to highlight what I think is the ridiculousness of the argument above.

          I hope that clarifies my larger point.

          • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2010 @ 13:57


            I just wanted to make sure that you understood that I am not the author. Yes, there are points in Larry’s post that resonate with me, but to be completely honest, I am still working my way through these issues. That said, I am a member of the CWPT and I believe in what they do. At the same time I want to use this blog as a place to explore controversial issues for my own benefit as well as for others. As much as folks got upset about this guest post I couldn’t be more pleased with the quality of the discussion that ensued. I am actually thinking about using my Civil War Memory elective course this year to explore some of these questions with my students. Thanks for your participation.

            • Raffi Sep 9, 2010 @ 14:04

              Sure thing, Kevin, fun and challenging as always 🙂

  • Indie Teacher Sep 9, 2010 @ 3:25

    All in all, this is a great post. Very succinct and logically powerful. Unfortunately, logic is probably not a very useful weapon in this 21st century Battle of Gettysburg. I’m not sure I see this side of the debate as mere Puritanism, but I definitely agree that the use of actors and the “Granddaughter of President Eisenhower” undermines the scholarly legitimacy of the effort. Of course, the majority of people who will see this video probably could not distinguish between David Blight and any other historian, real or otherwise.

  • Marianne Davis Sep 9, 2010 @ 3:22


    Who among us knew last year that “casino” could be spelled “C-O-N-F-L-A-T-I-O-N” ?
    There is an unattractive strain of nanny-ism here in the battle between what we ought to love, our national patrimony, and what we do love, our national pastimes. Just be grateful it isn’t a stadium. Then the good people of Gettysburg might also be asked to pay for it.

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