I am a little late getting to this one because I’m still catching up after vacation, but the Park Service announced this week that they will indeed be tearing down the old cyclorama building and visitor center. I have been following this story with great interest for some time now, and cannot tell you how relieved I am that they made the decision they did. The old building will probably be razed in time for the sesquicentennial this coming July. Perhaps it is a little too easy for me to say because the old building was never part of my personal Gettysburg experience–I visited for the first time in 2008 a few months after the new VC opened–but the Mission 66 structure never worked functionally or aesthetically. For one thing the air conditioning unit was directly behind the painting, blowing dirt and dust into the art work; for another the panels of the 12 1/2 ton cyclorama hung unevenly, causing further damage. The old building will always be part of the story of Gettysburg National Military Park, especially for the generation that came of age during the centennial. One of my best friends fondly recalls visiting from New Jersey as part of a field trip in the early 1970s. These are no small things; preserving and interpreting our culture are why out national parks and monuments exist in the first place. Still, we create new traditions each time we visit Gettysburg. This is what keeps it meaningful and alive. I am looking forward to seeing what the powers-that-be do with the land upon which the old building currently stands.
In a somewhat related story GNMP is taking advantage of the slower winter months to clean the cyclorama painting itself. The public is invited to watch the process, which is being undertaken from 8:00-5:00 Monday-Friday through February 1. Shelby Foote once famously said that one should visit the Civil War parks at the time of year during which the battle took place (Shiloh in spring, Fredericksburg in December, etc) to best understand what took place. This makes sense on one level, but I disagree. The history of the parks–now 150 years old and counting–is part of the story as well. Go when you can and you might be surprised at what you see.