FC: Several years ago a new visitor center was built for the Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The old one was a cramped brick structure with almost no modern facilities. A larger structure housing a cyclorama depicting Pickett's Charge was also inadequate for the orientation needs of visitors. The new structure was designed and built in the 2000's, when most of our readings were written, and incorporate many of the elements outlined in them.
1: The Wallace Foundation stresses: first impressions are important. A large parking lot with two large overflows. Cars from 32 states and Ontario. The building a large round barnlike structure on a stone base. And a new foyer that's about as large as the entire old visitor's center. Information is available everywhere, from the stand announcing ranger programs in the front to the Information Desk at the far end. The gift shop and cafe open right on to the foyer, so visitors can use them (and the restrooms) without paying the museum entry fee. Even though the museum was not crowded at the time there were five ticket windows open: four, including a trainee, and one pick-up. The lady at the register reminded me of a AAA discount and also asked my zip code.
2: The gift shop and cafe open right on to the foyer, so visitors can use them (and the restrooms) without paying the museum entry fee. Even though the museum was not crowded at the time there were five ticket windows open: four, including a trainee, and one pick-up. The lady at the register reminded me of a AAA discount and also asked my zip code.
3: Multimedia presentations play a major role in this museum. An orientation film outlines issues and events leading to the outbreak of the Civil War, and then the Battle of Gettysburg itself. An escalator leads up to the Cyclorama, a huge 360 degree painting depicting Pickett's Charge. The conservators have taken a great deal of effort to restore it to its former glory. As presented now, Rangers narrate the events of July 3, 1863 while illuminating the appropriate scenes of action. One multimedia exhibit from the old museum facility is now an artifact in its own right: this 3-D map mounted on a wall was once the centerpiece of an orientation program.
4: Jeff Tancil's multimedia displays in the Tenement Museum are dwarfed by the displays here, though his would have far surpassed the old museum's two or three video screens and recordings of martial music. Inside the display areas wall screens and narration repeat information from the orientation film, but now visitors are surrounded by artifacts of the period. Several interactive screens test your knowledge of the issues of the period.
5: The exhibits are arranged in a labyrinthine series of galleries. Only one or two rooms are visible at any time. This helps cut down interference from the other rooms: each one has spoken narrative, or a slide display on the wall. Seats and benches as few and far between, usually in front of the screens. The light is dim, since most of the artifacts are original. This campsite was looking much the worse for wear in the old building. The conservators have done a fine job refurbishing the materials and improving the former display. Judging from written accounts and old pictures, though, I'm afraid they'd never convey the proper grittiness of a true encampment.
6: The conservators had years to work on these items, while the new museum was under construction. Displays would disappear from the old building. As for the registrars, thousands of items had to be transferred, and thousands more brought out of storage. There is a mannequin of Johnny Reb with modern reproduction gear outside the entrance of the display galleries (beside one of Billy Yank), but seeing the original equipment gives a more accurate picture of the hard use these items saw. As well as the men who used them.
7: For more in-depth research there is a room of terminals with information on genealogy, history, and other material on the war and the battle.
8: While scholars pore over texts indoors, outside veterans are receiving discharges outside after hard service in the hot sun. Jim Hakala didn't mention what his programs were like in the Park Service, but I figure it must have involved kids somewhere.
9: Visitors who don't want to try to find their way around the park using the Park Service map (a tricky proposition for first-timers) or follow a recorded tour may opt for a guided tour. Not all guides at the battlefield are Park Service rangers. They can be spotted here and there around the grounds, but mostly lead special activities. Most guides are licensed contractors who accompany groups ranging from families to busloads.
10: Finally, as important to the battlefield as the conservator to the museum are those who work outside. Their work may not be as delicate as in the conservator's labs, but they certainly make an impression to the visitor. This lady is sanding down the surface of a cannon to prepare for a new coat of paint. The old was probably worn thin by the attentions of visitors, like the one taking an interest on the left.
11: The view from Little Round Top towards Devil's Den (the large rock formation in the middle distance). That tree line on the left once extended so far towards the road as to block half of it out. It seemed an act of ecological vandalism when they deforested that angle: heavy machinery, chain saws, wood chippers. But it's all part of the master educational plan, to restore the battlefield to as close an appearance as possible on the days of the Battle of Gettysburg.