It was a great day at the Roosevelt Birthplace yesterday. Charlie DeLeo was indeed on hand and gave an entertaining and enlightening talk about his 3+ decades maintaining the Statue of Liberty. His was a unique experience, and due to changes in procedures one that will not be come along in quite the same way ever again. Here are a few pics. In the one photo he is reaching into his hat pulling out the names of the raffle winners of his biography. As you can see, everyone was eager to have their copy signed. Keep in mind that Mr. DeLeo often speaks at schools and other venues. Everyone present yesterday can attest to how special his story is.
Yesterday someone received his National Park Service Volunteer Pass for going over 250 hours of service. I could have gotten the pass a long time ago had I been paying attention to the benefits that accrue with these milestones. When I began volunteering at the Roosevelt Birthplace last October I told myself I would vigilantly track these types of things. It is not about the money saved per se, but enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. I intend to put it to good use over the summer when I visit a few places.
One of the most enjoyable endeavors at the TRB this year was the opportunity to work on writing content for the installation in the lower gallery. The rangers did a great job putting the whole thing together, and it was a privilege to play a role. The two cases you see here were mine. Here are a few close ups.
Governors Island on the 4th of July was a wind and rain swept landscape. The weather kept people away but those who were there were in good spirits and enjoying the holiday atmosphere. The weather could have been better, but the island does have a fun feel in such circumstances.
For the second time this summer I met people at the Roosevelt Birthplace who were on Governors Island the day before. Usually such folks are out-of-towners who have an interest in historic sites. One of the most interesting things about Park Service sites in New York City is meeting such folks. This was especially true at Ellis Island where such a large percentage of the visitors are not New Yorkers.
The summer is on here in New York.
This morning I received the final details of the upcoming WW1 Centennial Commission trade show. About sixty individuals and organizations rsvp’ed. I am looking forward to the presentations and hearing what people have planned for the next 4-5 years. I know I myself intend to do a fair amount with the Great War Centennial between now and the 100th anniversary of the Versailles Conference.
It is hard to believe the New York History conference in Cooperstown was a full year ago. Alas I could not attend the 2014 NYSHA conference at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, as either a speaker or attendee. Tomorrow, however, I will be tuning in to a webinar coming from the nearby Henry A.Wallace Visitor Center at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park. The panelists will be discussing Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, the 2011 report from the Organization of American Historians analyzing the state of public history within the NPS. I have read the report and its while it lauds some NPS successes it also highlights where there might be improvement.
Tomorrow’s panel begins at 9:00 am and will focus on history at NPS sites within New York State. This is going to be an informative and lively event.
There were larger issues at stake during the government shutdown, but one of the most distressing things about the episode was the treatment of the Park Service and its personnel. The finger-pointing and grandstanding were painful to watch, and I don’t think it is melodramatic to say they may leave permanent scars on the agency and on the parks themselves. There have been spectacular successes during the Sesquicentennial. I was in Washington DC in July 2011 and remember watching the nearby Manassas coverage on television; the Hayfoot and I were in Gettysburg in person in the days leading up to the Gettysburg 150th and can attest to the level of preparedness on display. The electricity in the air was palpable and you understood that you were seeing history in the making. Despite these triumphs, the Service has struggled with budget cuts and other issues in recent years.
The NPS centennial is now just three short years away and given the current climate one cannot help wondering if and how the current tension might affect that anniversary. In the 1950s President Eisenhower enacted Mission 66, a decade-long initiative to improve the parks. America’s national parks had received internal improvements in the 1930s during the New Deal, especially under the auspices of the Civilian Conservation Corps. By the 1950s, however, sites were under considerable strain as an increasingly prosperous and mobile population toured the USA in their Chevrolets. More visitors means the need for more better roads & trails, more sewage & sanitation facilities, increased food & lodging, and all the rest. Hence, Mission 66. Given current realities, a Mission ’16 is probably not in the cards. Still, one hopes something with lasting benefit comes out of it. It is an issue worth watching and the next several months will tell us a lot about how it plays out.
As the shutdown has dragged on I have refrained from writing too much about how the stalemate has affected the National Parks. Thankfully, others have been covering the story. Kevin Levin has done an especially good job on his important Civil War Memory blog. Suffice it to say that I am distressed over how some people have been gaming the NPS these past ten days or so. It is even worse when those doing the gaming, and blaming, are the very ones responsible for the closings. I can understand why a general citizen might be confused about why he/she cannot walk the grounds of a national park or monument; a public official should know better. Now, a growing number of people are taking it upon themselves to play hide and seek with park personnel. For anyone contemplating this, I would encourage them to refrain from doing so. First of all, there is no capriciousness involved; the closings are required by federal law. Next, you yourself might mean no harm when crashing the gates of Gettysburg, the Grand Canyon, or wherever. Others who visit are less conscientious. Vandalism and relic hunting are a serious problems at NPS sites even when parks are fully staffed. Your presence, however seemingly innocent, only subtracts from the already stretched skeleton crews keeping an eye on things during the shutdown. You are only making their job more difficult. Mount Rushmore is not going anywhere. For the time being, stay home.
In related news, over the past few days some states have begun negotiating with the Department of the Interior to open sites under the proviso that the states will fund the operating costs and be reimbursed later. Some parks in Utah are opening this weekend. New York is contemplating the same thing for the Statue of Liberty. As at Gettysburg and elsewhere, the New York City tourist economy has taken a big hit in the shutdown. This is news we can use. I do hope they can work it out.
(image/National Park Service)
I have written about Ranger Betty Soskin before and so won’t tell her story again. Here is a a brief clip in which she discusses the shutdown.