Monday, May 5, 2008

Save The Electric Map?

Anyone with school-age kids has probably noticed that children - at least in Montgomery County - don't take NEARLY as many field trips as they did when we were kids. They're too busy studying to take standardized tests! When I was a kid, I don't think a year went by, for example, when my class didn't go to at least 2 or 3 Smithsonian museums. Neither of my kids has ever been to the Mall on a school trip, period.

One other place we used to go regularly was Gettysburg PA, a quick 90 minute jaunt up Rt. 15 to the most famous of all Civil War battle sites. A "must-see" at Gettysburg was always a visit to the famous "electric map" - an auditorium that surrounded a room-size map of the Gettysburg battlefield. Using state-of the art 1960's technology, the map used different colored light bulbs to show the movements of the union and confederate troops, while an uber-serious professorial voice narrated the intricate 3-day battle's movements.

This electric map presentation used to take about a half-hour, giving the audience the opportunity to reflect on the bloodshed of brother-against-brother combat in the deadliest single battle of the Civil War... or to give you some nice quiet time to catch a nap.

Love it or hate it, the electric map is now a thing of the past. The National Park Service is on a kick to "restore" Gettysburg back to its Civil War era condition, and that began with closing down the old visitor center where the electric map resides. That building is in the middle of where the action was, so to speak. An effort to save the electric map is underway, but in all honesty, I think they oughta let the old girl go to tourist trap heaven. In our short attention span world, no 10 year old kid is going to be satisfied with a half hour light bulb show when CG graphics and fast talk can tell the story in less time with more action.

Fortunately, another "tacky" Gettysburg attraction of my youth remains open just across the street from the electric map, on private property - The old National Civil War Wax Museum still exists, although it's undergone a name change in what I assume is a nod to 21st Century sensibilities. I'm sure someone out there is going to take offense at the sight of confederate soldiers or slaves immortalized in wax!

Sadly, I think the electric map has gone the way of pay phones, slide projectors and 8 track players... but thanks to the wonders of 21st Century technology, we'll always have our memories:


ccarl said...

I had long forgotten, but now remember, the electric map. RIP.

Didn't they also blow up the old observatory tower in Gettysburg a few years ago? My how things change.

John Matthews said...

Yes - The National Battlefield tower was blown up about five years ago. It had opened in the early 70's and was never really a big hit attraction. Two other attractions I recall were the cyclorama - a huge mural in the round that depicted the entire battle. It is being restored and will be displayed at the new Gettysburg visitors center ... and the other is the Jennie Wade house. Jennie Wade was the only civilian killed in the battle of Gettysburg, and legend has it that she was struck by a confederate bullet as she stood in her kitchen baking bread. I believe the moment is commemorated in wax at the aforementioned National Civil War Wax Museum.

Dr. Obnoxious, PhD said...

Yes, Bush is evil. As is NCLB. But I've been to the Mall on a field trip, albeit a crappy one.

Oh, and I finished in DigArt, so that is why I am commenting, beloved father.