I love exploring the many monuments on the Gettysburg battlefield. While they were intended to commemorate the events that took place in July 1863, the monuments ultimately tell us much more about how the veterans and Americans decades later chose to remember their actions and the broader meaning of the war.
Correspondingly, McConaghie’s tenure emphasized promoting, creating, and cultivating an aesthetic landscape. Creating a manicured landscape, however, stood at odds with the agency’s mission of preserving the cultural resources associated with the battle and its memorialization. In his 1936-1937 annual report, the superintendent bemoaned the sheer number of monuments on the battlefield. Noting they had “particular meaning” to the men who erected them, he believed that to current visitors the monuments “merely exist.” Thus to reconcile the proliferation of granite memorials with a more attractive landscape, McConaghie advocated planting trees and shrubs to obscure their view. Specifically, he offered, “The task before the field is to carefully plant so that the numerous monuments will appear to fit and be screened so as not to unduly affect the landscape.” From McConaghie’s perspective as a landscape architect, the Park Service should create a landscap that would minimize or deliberately hide the monuments–monuments erected by the veterans themselves to forever honor the deeds of their comrades–in order to promote a site that did not “unduly affect the landscape.” (p. 31)
It would be interesting to know how McConaghie arrived at the conclusion that visitors failed to take much interest in the monuments. Even more interestingly is the striking contrast with more recent attitudes that place a great deal of evidence on monument interpretation. Finally, the passage reminds us that how we interact with battlefield landscapes has and will continue to evolve.