November, 2008

Time to do a little blogroll housekeeping.

Unfortunately, Touch the Elbow, always one of my favorite blogs, has apparently faded to black for the second time. There hasn’t been a new post since July 4, and even then, it was not a substantive post. I’ve deleted it from the blogroll.

Sarah Adler has not posted since August 31. She had indicated that she was going to take a moratorium from posting, so I’ve also deleted the link to her blog.

I have added a link to the excellent Gettysburg Daily, which is maintained by an unidentified Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide, and which provides an excellent photographic record of the many changes to the Gettysburg National Military Park.

I’ve also re-added Brian Dirck’s excellent Lincoln blog since Brian is back blogging again. Welcome back, Brian. You were missed.

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I am no admirer of Dr. John Latschar, the present superintendent of the Gettysburg National Military Park. There are plenty of reasons why, but I won’t bore you with the details again. Suffice it to say that there are two unforgivable sins in my world: lying to me and wasting my time. This guy has done both.

The following press release was issued by the Gettysburg Foundation several days ago:

Gettysburg, Pa. (November 7, 2008)-Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent John Latschar will be leaving his post on March 1, 2009 to become the new president of the nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation, it was announced today by the Gettysburg Foundation and the National Park Service.

“John’s vision and leadership are an important part of the successful public-private partnership between the Gettysburg Foundation and the National Park Service,” said Robert Kinsley, Chair of the Gettysburg Foundation. “John’s experience and dedication exemplifies the type of leader we are looking for as we continue to work with the National Park Service to preserve Gettysburg for future generations.” Latschar was selected after a unanimous vote by the Board of Directors for the Foundation.

“Obviously, Bob is leaving some huge shoes to fill,” said Latschar. “No one else could have taken the Gettysburg Foundation from a concept to the opening of our new museum and visitor center in eight short years. I’m excited about the opportunity to continue to work towards the preservation and care of Gettysburg NMP and Eisenhower NHS from a new perspective. My goal will be to ensure that we continue our momentum, and to move the organization forward into a new era of philanthropy for the benefit of this and future generations,” said Latschar.

Working as a partner with the National Park Service, the Gettysburg Foundation has raised $103 million to build a new park Museum and Visitor Center which has ensured the preservation of the Gettysburg’s museum collections and the Cyclorama painting. The facility’s 24,000 square feet of museum exhibits have improved visitor understanding of the significance of the Battle of Gettysburg within the context of the causes and consequences of the American Civil War. A final keystone to the project will occur this winter when the park and the Gettysburg Foundation demolish two outdated visitor facilities located upon the center of the Union Army’s battle line of July 1863.

“John’s background and perspectives as an army officer, a combat veteran, a Ph.D. historian, and park superintendent contributed to his success in addressing preservation challenges at both Gettysburg NMP and the Eisenhower Site in innovative ways,” said Dennis Reidenbach, Regional Director for the National Park Service Northeast Region. “The projects and partnerships he created have dramatically improved the park’s ability to meet its mission now and for the future.”

“It has been a pleasure to work with the dedicated park staff, our partners, and the community to create the new museum and implement battlefield rehabilitation to restore Gettysburg’s historic integrity and enhance visitor understanding of the battle. I’m also proud of our combined efforts with Main Street Gettysburg and others to develop the Wills House, a National Park Service museum opening February 2009 in downtown Gettysburg about the aftermath of battle and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address,” said Latschar. “As President of the Gettysburg Foundation, we will continue to work with all our Gettysburg-area partners on the implementation of the Borough of Gettysburg Interpretive Plan.

Latschar has been superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park since 1994. He is a 31-year veteran of the National Park Service. Prior to his appointment at Gettysburg, he served as the first Superintendent of Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pa., and in various capacities at the NPS Denver Service Center. He has been recognized by the National Park Service for his leadership numerous times, including being named Superintendent of the Year for the Northeast Region of the NPS in 1991 and in 2001, Superintendent of the Year for Natural Resource Stewardship in 2003 and for Cultural Resource Stewardship in 2000.

The Gettysburg Foundation is in the midst of a $125 million Campaign to Preserve Gettysburg, which includes the construction–now complete–of the new Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park. The Foundation’s broad preservation mission began in 1989 and includes land preservation, battlefield rehabilitation, artifact preservation and monument and cannon-carriage preservation. The Foundation has more than 30,000 members and supporters nationwide and internationally.

Current Foundation President Robert C. Wilburn will step down March 1. Wilburn came to the Gettysburg Foundation in 2000, after being President and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

“Gettysburg is one of the most important places in American history,” said Wilburn. “It has been an honor to work to preserve this hallowed ground and to excite and inspire the millions of visitors who come here each year. With John’s leadership, Gettysburg’s future will be preserved.”

The Gettysburg Foundation is a private, non-profit educational organization working in partnership with the National Park Service to enhance preservation and understanding of the heritage and lasting significance of Gettysburg.

While Latschar is to be commended for his tree-cutting program at Gettysburg and for restoring the battlefield to its 1863 appearance, this sort of feathering of his nest is precisely the sort of unethical, conflict of interest that I expected him to pursue. He used his position as park superintendent to create and foster the Foundation, and now, he’s going to profit handsomely from it. No surprises there.

I will address the conflicts of interest and the ethical issues in a second post tomorrow. For now, I’m simply too disgusted to deal with it today.

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From yesterday’s issue of The Gettysburg Times:

Park Service holds off on Cyclorama demolition pending court decision

Times Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 7:00 AM EST

A compromise has been reached in the planned razing of the former Cyclorama building at Gettysburg National Military Park.

The park has decided that “no demolition of the building will take place,” pending the resolution of a two-year-old lawsuit to save the building.

“During this time, the National Park Service will solicit bids for demolition of the Cyclorama building and the former visitor center, and plans to undertake the demolition of the former visitor center,” U.S. Dept. of Justice attorney Samantha Klein wrote in a Nov. 3 letter to U.S. District Court. “However, the National Park Service will inform all potential bidders…that no demolition of the Cyclorama Building take place prior to the district court’s ruling on the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment.”

A Virginia based agency, The Recent Past Preservation Network, and the son of the architect who designed the building — Dion Neutra — filed a suit to save the structure.

The park, meanwhile, intends to tear it down and restore that portion of the Gettysburg Battlefield to its 1863 appearance.

In a court hearing last week in Washington, D.C., a federal judge ordered the park to notify the court whether it planned to proceed with plans to demolish the building. Park officials had announced that they wanted to solicit bids this month, and begin demolition shortly thereafter. U.S. District Court Judge Alan Kay said that a decision on the lawsuit probably won’t be made until December.

Kay heard motions for a summary judgment, a legal term meaning that a judge rules on a case without it going to a full trial.

He plans to file a recommendation with acting Judge Thomas F. Hogan, but doubted that paperwork would be filed until mid-December.

The old Cyclorama building is located atop Ziegler’s Grove with the former park visitor center, built atop land that was home to fierce fighting during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Previously, the cylindrical building had housed a famous painting of Pickett’s Charge, but the artwork was moved to a new $103 million visitor center located about one mile away.

Both the former visitor center and the old Cyclorama closed in April when the new visitor center opened.

The Recent Past Preservation group believes that the building can be relocated to another property in Gettysburg, and that it could be used as a museum or theater. Preliminary conversations have been held between the group and Gettysburg area businessmen Eric Uberman and Bob Monahan Jr., about potential new sites for the building.

“The Park Service never looked at an alternative to demolition in how to remove the building,” said Recent Past Preservation attorney Nicholas Yost.

Government officials said that the building is outdated, that it has undergone 30 repairs since the 1960s, and that the goal is to recreate that area of the battlefield to its Civil War appearance.

According to historians, 900 soldiers fought there during Pickett’s Charge, in what is dubbed The High Water Mark of the Confederacy.

Also, the park has questioned the validity of the lawsuit, filed in December 2006.

The six-year statute of limitations began in 1999, the park said, when it adopted its General Management Plan, and expired in 2005.

Let’s begin with the initial proposition that this thing never, ever should have been built where it is. With that as the underlying assumption, there’s the fact that the thing is just plain butt ugly. The building leaks like a sieve. I’m something of a student of architecture, and I appreciate modern architecture. However, what I don’t get–and never will–is why anybody other than Richard Neutra’s kid thinks that this hideous monstrosity should be saved, let alone be moved at astronomic expense footed by taxpayers. Does that mean that we’re going to start saving historic Waffle Houses now?

Tear it down. And don’t waste another dime of taxpayer money on this nonsense.

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Last night, I sat raptly glued to the television set from the time that the polls closed at 7:30 until after President-Elect Obama spoke last night. I’ve always enjoyed politics; I was, after all, a political science major. I’ve always enjoyed watching presidential election returns (but it was strange not seeing Tim Russert doing what he so obviously loved so much), but last night was an especially fascinating night.

Last night, history was made. Only 40 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, a black man was elected president of the United States. No less than his opponent, Sen. John McCain (whose concession speech was a paragon of class ad dignity, for which he deserves kudos and respect), recognized the historic nature of what had happened. “This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African Americans and the special pride that must be theirs tonight,” McCain said.

Perhaps with the election of Barack Obama, the last rifts of the Civil War can finally begin to heal. Or so I hope.

Godspeed, Barack Obama. And Godspeed to John McCain, a man of honor and character who knew how to lose with dignity.

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3 Nov 2008, by

Just Do It.

Tomorrow is election day. Tomorrow will be a truly historic election. We will either elect a black man president for the first time, or we will elect a woman vice president for the first time. Either way, the American political landscape will never be the same again.

Susan and I went and cast our ballots early, three weeks ago. We had no lines, and we stepped right up and did our civic duty. I feel badly for those who will be stuck in long lines tomorrow, but it WILL be worth the trouble.

I don’t care whether you vote for McCain, Barr, Obama, or Nader (well, I actually do, but I’m not going to preach at you about the candidates or tell you who I think you should vote for–that’s not the purpose of this post). Just do it. Go. Do your civic duty and vote. I firmly believe that those who don’t vote have no right to bitch about our political leaders, so please, whatever you do, do NOT put yourself into the category of those with no right to bitch.

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Once again, a hat tip to reader Todd Berkoff for bringing this nifty tidbit to my attention.

Most of you are familiar with the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, a regiment of black men led by Boston Brahmin Robert Gould Shaw, which made the heroic but unsuccessful assault at Battery Wagner in Charleston harbor on July 18, 1863. The regiment included one of Frederick Douglass’s sons, as well as other prominent Boston freedmen. Their story was immortalized in the excellent 1989 film Glory, which netted Oscars for Denzel Washington (Best Supporting Actor) and two others.

The Massachusetts National Guard has announced that it is re-activating the 54th Massachusetts and making it an active unit once more. On November 21, 2008, a ceremony will be held in which the 54th Massachusetts will be restored to active service. Originally an infantry unit, the 54th will become the Massachusetts National Guard Ceremonial Unit (aka Honor Guard). The original flags of the 54th will be brought out for the reinstatement ceremony.

I can think of no better tribute to the men of the original 54th Massachusetts than reinstating their unit to active duty all these years later. Hopefully, the members of the new 54th Massachusetts will lave a mark on history as favorable as their famous forebears.

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