Opposition to a proposed casino 1/2 mile from the Gettysburg NMP
Gettysburg battlefield electrical map up for auction
September 12, 2012 12:20 am
By Tom Barnes / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's tough to say goodbye to an old friend, but federal officials say they have no choice but to do so with an outdated electric map that showed where fighting took place at the famous Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg.
The National Park Service has put the 12-ton plaster map, which has been held in storage since 2008, up for an online auction, spokeswoman Katie Lawhon said Tuesday.
No bids had been received so far, even though the park service started the bidding at a mere $5. It is a horizontal, topographical map that measures 29 feet by 29 feet. The blinking electric lights on the map depict the movement of Union and Confederate troops during the historic conflict in and around Gettysburg on July 1-3, 1863, which is seen by many historians as the turning point in the Civil War.
For several decades the map had long been a major attraction for tourists and historians at the old visitors center for the national historical park and battleground. The map was created in 1962 for about $100,000 and originally was part of a private, family-owned museum in Gettysburg.
The park service bought the museum property in 1971, acquired the electric map and housed it inside the former visitors center.
But that building was razed four years ago after the new visitors center was built. The electric map was divided into four large pieces and has been sitting in storage.
While the auction price seems likely to stay minimal, it would be expensive for a buyer to restore the map, because it has an asbestos sealant covering it, and that would have to be removed.
"Recent tests reconfirmed that presence of asbestos on the map," Ms. Lawhon said.
She said the online auction is being held "in deference to Gettysburg organizations that have expressed an interest in saving the map for their own private use or display." However, it still could be destroyed if there are no bidders.
The auction is being handled by the U.S. General Services Administration. After inspecting the map in April, GSA official Robert Kitsock said the map was in "very poor condition" and "may pose a potential risk to public health and safety if moved and reassembled," Ms. Lawhon said.
It's also heavy, consisting of steel beams, a wood and plywood platform and the large raised surface made of plaster, so it wouldn't be easy to move.
National park officials don't think the old electric map is needed at the new visitors center. "It is an interpretive device that is outdated and has been replaced with exhibits, films and programs in the [new] museum and visitors center," Ms. Lawhon said.
But a lot of older visitors miss seeing the map, said Jim Paddock, a Gettysburg community activist, who hopes someone will buy it, preserve it and put in on public display again.
"The electric map has its own history," he said. "People in their 60s and 70s want to bring their children and grandchildren to see it. There is value in this map. Some people say there is nothing in the new visitors center that is as effective in describing the Gettysburg battle as this old map.
"It's more than just a map. It's a three-dimensional model that shows the hills and valleys of the battlefield."
While he wishes the topographical map was on display at the new visitors center, Mr. Paddock praised the Parks Service for trying to preserve it through an auction.
Another longtime Gettysburg resident and businessman, John Longanecker, also hopes the electric map survives.
"If it gets a buyer, I'd like to see it put into an above-ground storage unit," he said Tuesday. "This map is so unique, it should be put away in anticipation of the 200th anniversary of the battle in 2063. Make sure people have access to it after we are gone. It's something that shouldn't be destroyed."
But the map's future is still unknown. If no one wants to restore it, the Parks Service "intends to dispose of it in a sanitary landfill," Ms. Lawhon said.
The situation with the topographical map is the second controversy dogging the Parks Service, as it tries to update this much-visited national military park and restore it to the way it looked in July 1863. Demolishing the old visitors center was part of that process.
Another part was buying the old "cyclorama" building, which was a former tourist attraction containing a curved, vertical painting of the fighting. It was painted on the inside wall of the building, and visitors could see different angles of the battle as they climbed the tall, curving interior stairs.
That building is also closed, though not destroyed, as the former visitors centers was. Parks officials are still deciding whether to raze it, which is opposed by some local Civil War buffs.
More information and a picture of the map is available at the General Services website www.gsaauctions.gov. Type in "electric map" in the search box. Bids must be made electronically through the website.
First Published September 12, 2012 12:00 am
Last updated by Susan Star Paddock Sep 12, 2012.