Update on Future of Civil War Life Museum

The messages coming from Terry Thomann, the Civil War Life Museum’s director and members of the board of directors have been incredibly confusing over the past week.  The sticking point seems to be the significance of Thomann’s recent decision to close his Spotsylvania site in favor of Fredericksburg, which will give him the opportunity to sell all kinds of Civil War souvenirs.  Unfortunately, there is still no update on the foundation’s website, which is hard to believe given the importance attached to their $12 million fundraiser to open a state-of-the-art museum in Spotsylvania in time for the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  It is unclear as to whether Thomann plans to remain involved in this venture:

Thomann said he is still interested in talking with the county about opening a new museum, but he also hinted several times that it will take monetary support to make it happen. He said the National Civil War Life Foundation, which was established about two years ago to raise $12 million for a new museum, meets later this month. The members could still decide to try to open a museum in Spotsylvania, Thomann said. [my emphasis]

Perhaps additional information will be forthcoming following the next board meeting, but does anyone really believe that if Thomann’s store is successful that he will give it up in favor of a return to Spotsylvania?  You are simply not going to sell as many Mort Kunstler prints there.

Let me state for the record that I love the idea for this museum.  Its focus is broad and the emphasis seems to be on education and community outreach.  My problem is that as important as Spotsylvania is to the history of the Civil War I just don’t see how a major museum project can work financially.  This was the main reason why I resisted getting involved early on. There seeem to be no clear indication as to the future of this project, including the involvement of its director.  Under these conditions one wonders how they plan on convincing donors to sign on and given the fact that Virginia has already begun commemorating the sesquicentennial.

Update: Please don’t blame me if the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star is doing a better job of updating the public on the future of the Civil War Life Museum than the people who are associated with this project.

Civil War Museum in Spotsylvania County Closed

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A few years ago I was approached about getting involved in the founding of a new Civil War museum in Spotsylvania County.  I was appreciative of the offer, but declined owing to some of the unanswered questions that still lingered.  Well, Executive Director Terry Thomann managed to open his museum and even had plans to expand into a 3-story building.  The musuem had an attractive website with a number of exhibits scheduled, but this past weekend Thomann decided to close up shop and move to Fredericksburg.  Thomann is moving to Fredericksburg not to educate, but to entertain by opening a gift shop: “We have a great book section, lots of interesting historical toys and books for children and many historical gifts that both locals and tourists will love.”  Does downtown Fredericksburg really need another gift shop?

Thomann plans on opening a museum in the downtown area, but it is almost impossible to see how he can compete with the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center which is a must see if you are in the area.  Before Thomann can do anything it looks like there remains some outstanding lease issues with Spotsylvania County.  Continue reading “Civil War Museum in Spotsylvania County Closed”

Why Are We Forgetting To Order the Pedestals?

LincolnClassPerhaps I’ve spent too much time studying how Americans have used public spaces to commemorate and remember their past, but I don’t get overly emotional around statues and other such sites.  My first thought is almost always about the people – including the profile of the individual/group – who chose to shape a particular landscape with some kind of commemorative marker and the values that they hoped to impart to the public.  In addition to the intentions of those who established the site there is the history of how the space is interpreted and consumed by subsequent generations.  In all honesty, I rarely think about the object being commemorated.  In short, for me public spaces of historic remembrance are almost always about the living.  In most cases the objects themselves have little to do with shaping public behavior, especially if they sit atop pedestals.  You can have a barbecue, play chess, or engage in polite conversation without ever considering the namesake of the location.  Continue reading “Why Are We Forgetting To Order the Pedestals?”

Virginia’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Arrives in the Classroom

From the beginning of its formation, one of the central goals for the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission has been educational outreach.  It is doing this in a number of ways from organizing conferences to creating mobile exhibits that will travel throughout the state between 2011 and 2015.  Included in this is the creation of educational materials suitable for use in k-12 classrooms.  This fall Virginia PBS stations will air “Virginia in the Civil War”. This was a joint project between the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission and Virginia Tech’s Center for Civil War Studies. The documentary is three hours in length and will be broken down into nine 20 minute segments.  I couldn’t be more pleased with the commission’s focus on educational materials and this documentary, which will be made available to every public and private school in the state, will surely come in handy.

Continue reading “Virginia’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Arrives in the Classroom”

Last Minute Assignment at the Southern

shaSo, just as I was finishing packing for my trip to Louisville tomorrow when I received a phone call asking me to moderate a panel on Saturday morning.  I will be filling in for Gary Gallagher on a session titled, “The Public Presentation and Interpretation of Slavery and Slave Resistance: A Roundtable Discussion.” It’s a topic that I am very interested in and I was more than happy to accept the request.  I was pleased to see John Latschar’s name as one of the panelists, but unfortunately he has decided not to attend.  That’s too bad.  It would have given me the opportunity to thank him for all of his hard work at Gettysburg.  I’ve read through plenty of commentary over the past week by people who have tried to minimize Latschar’s accomplishments at Gettysburg, but all you have to do is listen to those on the inside and you will understand just how important he was in helping to bring about some of the most significant to the physical landscape and interpretation at the park.  Who better to talk about the importance of addressing difficult topics such as slavery at our Civil War battlefields and other public sites than John Latschar.  Peter Carmichael will be filling in for Latschar.