Outrage Spreads Over Civil War Gift Shop

No, this is not an Onion headline.  I guess it should come as no surprise that the Gettysburg bobblehead controversy has gone viral.  The story has appeared in hundreds of newspapers across the country and beyond.  It’s nice to know that interested parties are on the job ensuring that only appropriate items are sold at a Gettysburg GIFT SHOP – a site where tens of thousands of Americans were killed and wounded.  Someone please let me know when the Iraq Sunni – Shia gift shop opens in Baghdad.

Well, at least kids will still be able to re-create the suffering of Andersonville Prison.

Please tell me this is not sold at Andersonville.  Is a JWB bobblehead really any worse than your own set of Civil War trading cards?

About Kevin Levin

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25 comments add yours

  1. I played with “army men” as a kid. Is recreating the violence and bloodshed of a battlefield any better than the disease and suffering of a prison camp?

    I don’t have an opinion on this one way or another; I’m just asking a question.

    • I played with toy soldiers as a kid as well.

      I am simply wondering why we are making such a big deal over one item that glorifies or makes light of violence in a GIFT SHOP ON A CIVIL WAR BATTLEFIELD.

      • Because it appears to celebrate and condone a *crime*—murdering the President.

        • I think we can at least say that it makes light of the president’s murder, but I don’t believe most people would suggest that it condones it.

    • As a kid I played “army ” all the time. But I never played “presidential assassination” and I only remember one wild week of turning our playground into “The Great Escape.” Kevin’s absolutely right to point out below that we have a long, odd tradition of glorifying the violence and horror of the Civil War as “fun,” one that goes back to the vets themselves playing up the absurd in memoirs rather than the ugly and mundane. That’s the big question lurking in this discussion. But I still think there’s a darker shade of gray when it comes to Booth gag gifts or playing “let’s hang the Raiders,” one that reminds me of all the Nazi/SS schlock that’s also out there on the collectible markets. There’s over the line, and then there’s off the map.

      By the way, in this particular case I also blame Karl Betts. The mold for that stockade surely must be fifty years old; my 1960s variation was supposed to be Boonesborough.

  2. O. M. G. Could there be anything less appropriate than this? Ford’s Theater? Libby Prison? Bleeding Kansas set? I know – the bushwhackers’ battle set complete with soldiers who can change colors, and innocent civilians.

    If the Eastern National e-commerce site is accurate, they do not sell this. Thank goodness.

  3. This reminds me of a previous blog post called “Your own Confederate Village (Loyal Slaves Extra)” from last March. These weren’t exactly toys, but these collectables sanitized the past in the same ways.


    Is World War II-themed toys any worse than Civil War? I found this Utah Beach playset on a website, complete with landing craft and pillboxes. I can only imagine why they didn’t have an Omaha Beach set.


  4. I just disagree with you on this one, Kevin. I’m glad the John Wilkes Booth bobblehead doll is gone from Gettysburg, though it is certainly not near the top of my list of offensive elements in our culture these days. I agree with what James Epperson said: this doll celebrates a murderer, and implicitly celebrates the murder of Lincoln. It has political content in a way that (say) bobbleheads of Grant or Lee, or even Jefferson Davis, would not.

    Your broader point about war toys is thought provoking, and maybe I’m a hypocrite that I don’t find toy soldiers as disturrbing as a John Wilkes Booth bobblehead (I still have fond memories of my lead Civil War soldiers, not to mention countless prepubescent hours on war toys and games of all stripes). Maybe it has something to do with the contemporary political relevance of what happened in the 1860s.

  5. While subtle, I think that there is a difference between kids playing with “army men” and toys representing a prison camp. The inmates could not as easily defend themselves, which conveys a sense of oppressing one’s fellows for the kid who gets the role of the prison guard (and at times executioner for that matter). Is that a quality worth inculcating? Some of us find equally troubling the army men toys, which I readily admit that I played with as a kid (US Army versus the Third Reich). Yep, the Nazis always lost….

    As for the JWB bobblehead, it is indeed repugnant, but, as Americans, don’t we reserve the liberty to be so? A savvy retailer should tread carefully on whether to sell these items.

  6. I’d buy it. It takes a pretzel-logic mind to see the Booth BOBBLE HEAD DOLL as somehow honoring the assassin or condoning the assassination. Of course, if one has a pretzel-logic mind one will make no sense of what I just said. I have a Dude bobble-head, but that doesn’t mean I condone occupying college administration buildings, smoking a lot of Thai stick, or bowling. Or does it?

    • I have a Dude bobble-head, but that doesn’t mean I condone occupying college administration buildings, smoking a lot of Thai stick, or bowling. Or does it?

      Unfortunately, I don’t know you well enough to be able to answer this question. 🙂

  7. Is that really supposed to be a replica of the stockade at Andersonville? From what I have read and seen in pictures, it doesn’t seem very authentic. Having lived in Madison County, Kentucky and see the real thing, it looks more like Boonesborough with guard towers.

  8. As a general question… is there anything wrong with celebrating or glorifying violence or war in a innocuous sort of way?

    So the violence of the Civil War is celebrated or glorified. I kind of have to say… so what?

  9. How is a prison camp fun for a kid? Toy soldiers are fun the same way toy guns are fun. But a toy POW camp? Imagining the lucky 9 year old opening that at Christmas.

    • Have you played with the Civil War Prison Camp……it is awesome. I reinforced mine with lincoln logs and storm troopers.

  10. I think the idea of Civil War bobble heads is great. There ought to be:

    A Joe Johnston bobble head that moves backwards when you press the head down.

    The Longstreet bobble head. You press the head and five hours later it moves.

    A McClellan bobble head that won’t move at all.

    The John Pope bobble head. When you press the head it attempts to turn around and admire itself.

    The Stonewall Jackson bobble head. You press it and it tries to place all the other Confederate bobble heads under arrest.

    A William T. Sherman bobble head. You press the head and a butane lighter emerges and tries to burn down your curio stand.

    The Joe Hooker bobble head, which comes with optional camp follower bobble heads (must be at least 18 to order).

    The Virginia set of 4 bobble heads. One you display. The other three reminisce about old bobble heads you never heard of.

  11. I thought about this some more today. Not sure if anyone has mentioned but I don’t believe this playset is even intended for children… at least not really.

    My wife used to collect Barbies and paid as much as $120 for at least one of them- and that price is on the low end for serious collectors. These are the Barbies that never come out of the box.

    I think the same may be the case with this playset: designed as a cvhild’s toy, yet not marketed to children.

  12. As the artist that made the JWB Bobblehead would like to thank everyone for their most interesting comments on the subject.

    What the press missed or overlooked, if you will, was the Bobblehead was made as a teaching aid. It is part of a growing set of historical people places and events designed to start a conversation and create an interest with young people.
    If you would care to read about the other side of the story here is the link

  13. Unfortunately it is. What is even more disturbing is that the park took down this link when I tagged it to their Facebook Page. Twice.

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