This morning I finished re-reading my already well-underlined copy of Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage. Freeman’s small classic is a must read for all who practice the interpretive craft. I re-visited it yet again in preparation for Governors Island’s annual Civil War Weekend, which is now just three weekends away, August 10-11. Last year I wrote and delivered a program called The Civil War Generation’s Governors Island. That program focused on the many individuals who spent at least some time on the island before or after the war. A short list includes Winfield Scott, Lee, Grant, Sheridan, Oliver Howard, Arthur MacArthur, and, most importantly, Winfield Scott Hancock. Hancock ran the Division of the Atlantic from here; from his arrival in 1878 until his death in early 1886 he received an endless line of former friends and foes eager to reminisce while in town to do whatever business it was that took them to the city. It was from Governors Island that he organized Grant’s funeral, choosing to have Joe Johnston and Simon Bolivar Buckner serve with others as Grant’s pallbearers in a reconciliationist gesture toward the Old South. I felt my talk was pretty good last year. I delivered it three times on both the Saturday and Sunday, getting stronger each time as I figured out what worked and what didn’t. Such is the nature of public speaking. Still, this year I am revamping it to incorporate some different themes and to adjust the segues as we walk from stop to stop.
A second reason for re-reading IOH was to prepare for a new, second talk I will be doing this year on the 1863 draft riots. This is what I did not post about the riots during their anniversary this week. My talk, which I hope to expand into a post for the Governors Island website, is going to focus on the role the harbor forts, most obviously Governors Island, played in the defense of the city. The attempted seizure of the arsenal is one of the most intense stories of the draft riots. If I do it correctly my talk will tie the military in with the political at the local, state, and federal level. That’s a lot to do in 45-60 minutes; the point, though, is to tell a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Thus, the re-reading of Tilden.