More on the Gettysburg VC

11 08 2008

Blogger Kevin Levin has asked me to expand a little on my impressions of the new Gettysburg Visitor’s Center.  Well, you can read all about the layout and design of the VC on any number of blogs and websites, so I assume what Kevin wants to know is what I think of the place in light of what others have had to say.  I’ll just quickly address some of the criticisms I’ve seen, and also list what I viewed as positives.  Keep in mind that I did not visit the theater or the food court.

There is an awful lot of empty space in the building, particularly wall space.  This is true, but I don’t know what the future plans are for these expanses.  At 9:00 AM the space was conspicuous, but by noon it was obvious that the extra room was a good thing, particularly when one remembers how stifling and close the old VC was when it got crowded.  But the place is awfully big: ostentatious, even.

There is not enough of the park’s artifacts collection on display.  I can understand this complaint probably better than any other because of the emphasis placed on preserving and exhibiting the artifacts when the rationale for the new VC was laid out.  I think a good many items could be added with a more judicious employment of wall space.

There is more touristy junk and fewer book titles in the bookstore than previously.  Probably true, but I think many of the regulars who made purchases at the VC bookstore did so out of a sense of obligation, to help out, as it were.  Pretty much all the inventory could be had at a fraction of the cost from other stores in town or online.  Most of the other folks patronizing the store were looking for general books on the war and the battle, or touristy junk.  And nowhere else in town could I find this swell Lincoln-on-a-Stick.

The museum focuses too much on the history of the war in general and not enough on the battle specifically.  I think this may be the unkindest criticism of all.  The museum’s exhibits help put the battle into context, and at the highest level that should be the goal of interpretation.  After all, the other 5,000+ acres of the park are exclusively devoted to the interpretation of the battle.

Most of the criticisms I’ve seen come from fairly hard core students of the war and, more specifically, of Gettysburg.  Let’s face it, most of these guys (myself included) hardly spent any time in the old VC, and when we did go in it was to use the bathroom, meet up with friends, or go to the bookstore.  Frankly, I think this visitor’s center does not and should not cater to the frequent visitor, because the overwhelming majority of those entering its doors do not and will not do so frequently.  Gettysburg is what it is – the equivalent of the baseball and football halls of fame, both of which attempt to tell a whole story.  And Gettysburg is more often than not the only Civil War attraction (for lack of a better term) that most of these folks will visit.  The NPS owes its patrons the most comprehensive experience it can provide, and I think the new GNMP Visitor’s Center represents a big step in that direction.

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6 responses

12 08 2008
Francis Rose

I think the last paragraph sums up my feelings about the new VC better than I could write it. Bravo.

Francis

12 08 2008
Chris Army

I agree with you and Francis, Harry….you’re last paragraph captures my thoughts on the new VC as well.

Most of the 1.5-2 Million visitors per year are only going to be there for a day or two so the “crown jewel” of National Military Parks provides a great experience for those visitors. Alyce’s and my experiences with friends of ours that visited over the summer thought the VC was done in classy fashion with a great way to explain the conflict and the battle.

In addition, when the new Cyclorama opens up I’m sure it will be vastly different than the old experience as the painting is being set up the way it was according to Sue Boardman.

Glad you had a great trip, wish I was there too!

Chris

12 08 2008
Steve Basic

Harry,

I guess the main problem I have is when it comes to help paying for the new place, the diehards were inundated with mailings asking to help foot the bill. That’s fine, and I accept that, but to ignore the complaints from us now shows that those concerned were only interested in what we would donate to the new VC. IMHO, it’s not right at all.

Hope all is well.

Steve

13 08 2008
Don Gallagher

I would like to comment on the Museum telling the History of the War as opposed to the History of the Battle. I think that too many regular/well read visitors lose sight of the fact that for the majority of visitors, Gettysburg is the gateway to the American Civil War. They first need an understanding of why the battle was fought at all. Secondary is why Gettysburg was the location of the battle. If they are interested in a detailed tactical explanation of the battle, either that will come from the first two points or probably not at all. The Park will aim to please the Majority first, because that’s what the Goverment does. They will please the rest of us later when it is more convenient.

14 08 2008
Mannie Gentile

Harry,

My reaction was very similar to yours, which I posted here:

http://volunteersinparks.blogspot.com/2008/07/gettysburg-visitor-center-comments.html

I got kind of reamed out (again) by one of my regular readers (comments). People seem to like me better when I keep it light and cheery. Man, I don’t know how Kevin can stand the heat sometimes.

Mannie

15 08 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Mannie,

Ahh, the simple pleasures of the good cop!

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