More on John Latschar

There is no one I respect more in the NPS than John Hennessy, who is chief historian at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. John offered the following as an assessment of Latschar’s tenure at Gettysburg. You will notice that his observations stand in sharp contrast with the comments found over at Eric Wittenberg’s blog.

Speaking from the narrow (though important) perspective of one who helps manage a battlefield landscape that is also a national park, John Latschar is the most important superintendent any NPS battlefield site has had in our lifetime. Through the park’s GMP and the rigorous implementation that followed it, he was the key figure in:

– Establishing the primacy of wartime resources and landscapes over all else–a point much in debate for a very long time.

– The reclamation of the patterns of forest and field at Gettysburg have made it possible for all other sites to seriously consider and pursue such a course–something, again, that was, in the mid-1990s, only a faint dream.

– Regardless of what you think about the park’s approach to interpreting the battle and Civil War, Gettysburg has helped re-establish the importance of interpretation, and especially the many reasons why these places matter (or ought to) to the nation. What the NPS does in the way of interpretation may not much interest those already immersed in the story (though I think it really does–there are few things as compelling as a powerful interpretive program delivered on-site, no matter how many times you’ve been there), but it is everything to the bulk of a park’s visitors. Otherwise, these places are just fields and forest without significance.

Think back fifteen years. All of these issues were much in debate. Our battlefield landscapes threatened to become little more than museums of commemorative expression, with the resources related to the battle managed and interpreted with the same earnestness that we devote to CCC culverts, 1964 visitor centers, and postwar forests. While many people have had something to do with the reordering of our priorities, Gettysburg under John Latschar’s watch have given those reordered priorities tangible form–much to the benefit to park visitors, both casual and hard-core.

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4 comments… add one
  • Craig Nov 13, 2008 @ 8:14

    Wasn’t Latschar, before Gettysburg, either the superintendent or at least in a leadership capacity at Steamtown NHS?

    I’m still mixed in reaction to that place in Scranton. While I think our railroad heritage needed a showcase, there might have been some better places to select. Furthermore, even for someone of limited background on the subject (there are two types of trains – those on time and those which are late), I can pick out that most of the “artifacts” on site are Canadian and not American. Sort of hard to pitch the “American History” side of this without somehow making our brothers to the north an honorary 51st state.

    But I must admit, when a visitor is allowed to walk inside a working train depot and repair yard, that’s hard to beat. Excellent interpretation in the museum. And the supporting movie was top notch.

  • Kevin Levin Nov 13, 2008 @ 4:40

    Thanks Eric. It would help if you could explain exactly what that conflict of interest involves. Apparently, the people who offered him the job don’t see a conflict and they, more than anyone else, would be sensitive to such issues. It seems to me the best argument that can be made against the appointment has been put forward by Jenny who suggested that he is now too polarizing of a leader.

    From the Evening Sun:

    Soon after news of Latschar’s new position became public last week, some in the local blogosphere began questioning whether his switch from the public to the private sector equated to a conflict of interest, however. One poster on – a forum dedicated to the discussion of Gettysburg issues – linked the site to the Department of Interior’s online ethics

    Gene Golden, one of BoroughVent’s creators, questioned the ethics of Latschar taking a job – and likely a large salary hike – with an organization he was instrumental in establishing. “On the surface, it sure looks suspect,” Golden said. But Latschar said he sought the approval of ethics officials about three weeks ago, soon after he was approached by Gettysburg Foundation Board of Directors Chairman Robert Kinsley with an offer to take over current President Robert Wilburn’s job. Wilburn told the board of his decision to step down a few months ago.

    A board search committee identified Latschar as its top pick to replace Wilburn. Latschar, who has served as superintendent at Gettysburg National Military Park since 1994, will succeed Wilburn beginning March 1. Latschar said Monday that, when he was offered the job, he was unsure about a possible conflict of interest after looking at the department’s post-employment restrictions and anticipated the response of ethics officials would prevent him from accepting the job. At first unsure about whether he wanted the job, Latschar said he then realized he’d be disappointed if he was denied the opportunity. “So then I really started thinking about it,” he said. Latschar said he was “pleased” to receive clearance from ethics officials.

  • Eric Wittenberg Nov 12, 2008 @ 21:11


    I don’t dispute a single one of John Hennessy’s words. Indeed, I have always acknowledged Latschar’s contributions to the park at Gettysburg. I have my own reasons to despise the man personally, but they actually don’t factor into my disgust at his engaging in a major conflict of interest at taxpayer expense.

    I note that John’s comment did NOT address that issue. The conflict of interest is what bothers me. Irrespective of his contributions to the park, the conflict of interest is just plain wrong.


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