Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is a fitting place to observe Memorial Day, since the holiday can be traced to the practice of decorating the graves of soldiers who died in the Civil War. And there are few places more significant in the history of that war than Gettysburg, which witnessed tens of thousands of casualties, and was the bloodiest battle ever on American soil.
Sunday of Memorial Day weekend I traveled to Gettysburg to participate in a program organized by No Casino Gettysburg. It was a combination of musical concert, political rally and old-fashioned small-town get-together as part of the continuing campaign to oppose the development of a casino a half-mile from the boundary of the Gettysburg National Military Park.
On a shady lawn of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, some three hundred people gathered to listen to the 2nd South Carolina String Band playing Civil War-era tunes, and to hear speeches from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Civil War Preservation Trust, the National Parks Conservation Association, Preservation Pennsylvania, and No Casino Gettysburg. Included in the crowds were scores of men, women, and children in 19th century attire, who looked like they had stepped out of the 1860s.
I told the audience, “We have the opportunity—yet again—to say that we want Gettysburg and all that it represents to retain its authenticity, its sense of place, its power of place. This little town is linked forever in the popular memory with what happened here in the summer of 1863. We owe it to those who suffered and died here, and to succeeding generations, never to forget—and never to trivialize—this powerful place.”
As a closing, candles were distributed and hundreds of lights began to show through the evening as we listened to a recitation of the Gettysburg Address.
Walter W. Gallas, AICP is the director of the Northeast Field Office at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.