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Flight 800, will it draw a crowd?

July 12, 1999

I've heard Washington County described as a train wreck before, but a plane crash? Apparently so. The County Commissioners appear eager to have the reconstructed TWA 747 of Flight 800 infamy located in Hagerstown.

And U.S. Sen. Barbara "Stretch" Mikulski is enthusiastic about the project, telling the County Commissioners last week she'll do what she can to help.

I'm all for tourist attractions, but I have this nagging voice in the back of my head saying "Hasn't TWA Flight 800 suffered enough?" It's one thing to go down into the soup of Long Island Sound following a terrible mid-air explosion. But then as a final indignity to end up at a regional airport in Washington County, Md.?

And what a macabre, Barnum and Bailey attraction. Come see the plane of death. What else are we going to put out there, soil samples from Chernobyl? When I think of tourists, I think of people who are interested in history or the out-of-doors, not the subgroup that spends evenings on the couch watching Fox's "When Grandmothers Drop Acid."

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Maybe if a little more time had passed like the Titanic, or the people were villains, like the Bonnie and Clyde car.

But as my friend Kate says, "They have to put it someplace, don't they?"

Well, yes, I suppose they do. And for better or worse, it would almost undoubtedly be a big draw. It's not the Space Needle, but hey, one step at a time.

On a happier tourism note, City Council members and the County Commissioners seem eager to pursue a Smithsonian-affiliated Civil War museum in downtown Hagerstown. Wisely, they want to see some serious, verifiable numbers up front (unlike the ice rink) to be sure the investment has a good chance of success.

As an aside, I noticed the AAA automotive club of Maryland newsletter just did a feature article on two car tours of Civil War attractions. Number of times Hagerstown is mentioned? Zero. Number of Hagerstown travel information numbers provided at article's end? Zero. Seems the Crossroads of the Civil War didn't get so much as a signpost. Of course, the Smithsonian would change all that in a major way.

Frederick got a couple of mentions, one for the National Civil War Medical Museum that Washington County shunned and the other for the great Battle of Monocacy.

Civil War enthusiasts will please stop reading here because I am about to commit Civil Sacrilege and I don't need Dennis Frye leading a torchlit mob to my door at three in the morning.

But please, stop the madness of all these second-, third- and fourth-tier battles. They are too much for my tiny little brain to catalog. They say Monocacy saved Washington (as if that were a good thing). So because of the Battle of Monocacy, nothing happened. Whew, excuse me while I fan myself.

And I know Antietam is the loftiest of an estimated 853 "Turning Points of the Civil War" and I can accept that. But then we have the Union capture at Harpers Ferry as the Surrender That Led to The Turning Point of The Civil War.

Then South Mountain comes along and voila, The Battle That Led To The Surrender That Led to The Turning Point of The Civil War. And east of Burkittsville, hallowed ground that was The Staging Area That Led To the Battle That Led To The Surrender That Led to The Turning Point of the Civil War.

Of course before that Lee misplaced his battle plan, which was The Blunder That Led To The Staging Area That Led To The Battle That Led To The Surrender That Led To The Turning Point of The Civil War.

Where does it end, with the tailor who stitched Lee's drawers too tight? It's getting so every place a metal detector turns up a Minie ball we have an instant major battlefield nominee.

Look, Antietam? Big. Gettysburg? Big. Monocacy Staging Area? I bet we get more visitors with Flight 800.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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