We recently received our annual statistical report from WordPress about this blog. In 2013 we produced 46 posts which received approximately 160,000 views. Since we started the blog in May 2011, we have written 130 posts, including this one, and these have received a grand total of 316,877 views from people in 117 different countries. This represents a new world of interpretation that we are just beginning to explore. Take Chris Gwinn’s recent post about the controversy over the Lee statue on the Virginia Memorial as an example. In two days it had 2,115 views. It took Chris some time to put this post together with the research and writing, but one post reaching 2,115 people is a pretty good day’s work. If we have 100 people attend an interpretive walk it is something to talk about. Chris reached 20 times that number with one post, and those enjoying what he wrote could be anywhere in the world. There is great power in personal interpretation on the resource, but there is also value in reaching out beyond the resource to those who are interested in it but unable to physically visit. That is what this blog can do. And it can tell stories we might not be able to tell in a regular interpretive program. The possibilities are limitless.
Tomorrow, I will retire from the National Park Service and Gettysburg NMP after 34 years and several months of service. This blog is one of the many things I will miss as I move on. I feel as if I have only scratched the surface of topics to be explored. But others, like Chris and Katie Lawhon and John Heiser will carry on without me and they may even invite me to write a guest post now and then.
I don’t wish to bore you with maudlin reflections of my years at Gettysburg, but permit me to reflect on three things that stand out to me as I ponder the past 34 years. The first is the people, you . . . the readers of this blog, the park visitors, those who visit multiple times a year, and those who seem to find Gettysburg by accident, and all the people I have worked with. It is the people that have made my time here so rewarding and interesting. There have been frustrations but they are heavily outnumbered by the positives. As the title of this post indicates, it has been an honor to serve the public for over three decades. I cannot imagine a more rewarding job than I have had. And the people I have worked with, co-workers, bosses, licensed guides, volunteers – the dedication they bring to serving the visitor and telling the story always inspired me and made me proud.
Second, is the resource, the battlefield. It is an evocative and beautiful landscape yet one can feel the tragedy. Someone who knew nothing about the battle and drove up Hancock Avenue to the High Water Mark would instantly know that something important
happened here. The iron fence around the small copse of trees and close concentration of monuments, cannons and wayside exhibits beckon the visitor from their car. Although it has been quoted to exhaustion no one has ever captured the feeling of this place like Joshua Chamberlain when he wrote, “In great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision place of souls.” There is tremendous emotional power in this place which may seem odd for a landscape where something so utterly terrible took place. I was reminded of this after September 11. On two separate occasions visitors I did not know but who had attended my programs sent me notes afterwards to thank me. They also both wrote that they had been in the Twin Towers that terrible day and survived. What drew them to Gettysburg? What did they hope to find here? I don’t know specifically and can only speculate. Surely, they did not seek a reminder of the fear and terror they had known that day. Perhaps, instead, they found hope and comfort in that Gettysburg symbolized that government of the people, by the people and for the people could endure a crises as great as the Civil War. Perhaps it was something else that brought them here. The landscape evokes different feelings in each person but it rarely fails to stir emotions.
Lastly, it is the Gettysburg story that looms largely in my mind. I never lost sight of the fact that the story of this place, the battle, the people, the town, the park, was bigger than me. I was merely a conduit. I feel that those who lived the event expected one thing from those of us who tell their story – and that is that we do so honestly and objectively. At the height of the fame Joshua Chamberlain achieved after the movie “Gettysburg” was released, I was told a story of a group of visitors that were standing on Little Round Top. When someone in the group, who had seen the movie, brought up Chamberlain’s name, the leader pretended to gag and dismissed Chamberlain as overhyped. In a battle that pitted nearly 165,000 men the attention Chamberlain received after the movie “Gettysburg” was certainly out of proportion. But my first thought when I heard this story was that if that individual had stood in Chamberlain’s shoes that day, had watched over 120 of his men get shot down around him, heard the shrieks and groans and cries of men he knew, had felt the fear and chaos in his bones, listened to subordinates reporting they were nearly out of ammunition and some advising that they should fall back, and still had the coolness and courage to order a bayonet charge, well, I don’t think he would have gagged when asked about Chamberlain.
The battle is only part of the story here. It is also about the people who lived here, the people at home who waited with dread the news from the front, those who helped preserve the field after the battle and war, and how we have remembered it, commemorated it, and preserved it. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address reminds us that the story is also about big things, what the war was about, what it resolved and what it did not.
Dwight Eisenhower once said that he has always wanted to own a piece of land and
leave it a little better than he had found it, which is what he did with his Gettysburg farm. I always liked that sentiment, to work to make something better than you found it. I hope I did that in my time at Gettysburg. Regards and sincere thanks to you all.
D. Scott Hartwig