Hey everybody, wherever you happen to be this weekend I hope the weather is as fine as here in the Big Apple. By accident more than design, I am having a museum weekend.
Today a friend and I went to the Grolier Club for “Torn in Two: the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.” The exhibit is on loan from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center of the Boston Public Library. The show did an excellent job of explaining the role of cartography in the war. A faulty map was often the case between victory or defeat on the battlefield. (See: Ball’s Bluff.)
Especially poignant were the maps in the section the exhibit’s creators called The Living Room War. A century before Vietnam brought another war into American homes via television, Americans in large numbers purchased maps printed specially for the purpose of following the movements of loved ones on far away battlefields. (Franklin Delano Roosevelt did the same thing during World War 2, encouraging citizens to purchase maps so they could follow along during his fireside chats.) Keep in mind that the mid-nineteenth century was a time when many Americans, North and South, had never traveled more than fifty miles from their homes. One map from 1861 had a portrait of Elmer Ellsworth in the upper left hand corner and Benjamin Butler in the upper right. I was greatly moved by one front page article, accompanied with a simple sketch of Sharpsburg and the Antietam battlefield, published in Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune just days after the battle.
Also on display was “Panorama of the Seat of War.” Looking at it, one understands the geographical advantages enjoyed by the Confederacy in the Eastern theater. The mountains and waterways intersecting the entire area created formidable challenges for the Army of the Potomac. As a ranger friend at Antietam National Battlefield points out to visitors during his orientations, soldiers at the time had no GPS devices in 1862. Oddly, this is something people today often have difficulty imagining.
Also on display were these famous lithographs. It is always special to see the originals. Again, note the map motif.
Not everything in the show was from the Civil War era. On display was a detail from “Freedom’s Tracks: A Map of the Underground Railroad,” a map produced by the McElfresh Map Company in 2005 showing the routes runaways slaves used to escape bondage. Alas, I have no picture to show. In order to see it you will have to travel to the Upper East Side yourself. “Torn in Two” will be open to the public through April 28, 2012.
A while ago I got a last minute call from another friend asking if I would like to venture to Queens tomorrow to visit the Noguchi Museum. The outdoor sculptures should be especially beautiful with the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
It is so good getting out of the house after the winter, even the mild winter, we had. Enjoy your weekend.
(images/Library of Congress)