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War museum ad nauseum

January 18, 2001

War museum ad nauseum



Well, another day, another Civil War museum, this one in Gettysburg. Joining, if memory serves, Richmond, Hagerstown, Harrisburg and for all I know, that hotbed of Civil War activity, Altoona.

Pretty soon, I predict, we'll see a sign proudly proclaiming "Welcome to Paw Paw: Home of the Only Town on the East Coast Without a Civil War Museum."

If this trend continues, we're going to reach a point where somebody has to start printing up artifacts. Get very suspicious if you begin seeing displays proclaiming "This is the Carrier air conditioner window unit used by Robert E. Lee at his Manassas headquarters. Note Minie ball hole on left side which forced Civil War surgeons to amputate the condenser."

Here's an artifact I'd like to see in a glass case: "This is the club Hagerstown Civil War museum booster Dennis Frye went after state and local elected officials with, for dragging their feet and allowing every city from Atlanta to Albany to slip in the door first."

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The main thrust of the Gettysburg project is to restore the battlefield to the way it looked in 1863. Without quite as many corpses, I assume.

The current museum and visitors center are problematic because they encroach on the ground where Pickett led his ill-fated charge. The way it looks now, you can almost hear Pickett rallying his men before the charge: "Boys, I want you to give it all you've got. Concentrate your artillery and your attack to the top of the ridge, at a spot just to the right of that visitors center."

The project will cost $52 million in private funds and is expected to be completed in 2005. Who knew empty fields the way they looked in 1863 could be so expensive? Good thing they weren't going back to the way it looked in 1776, or it would have cost as much as Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez.

Heck, Hagerstown's plan calls for a massive building in the middle of town and weighs in at $10 million less. We're getting a bargain. Not that it will matter. All we're hearing from our state lawmakers is how, during a year in which Maryland has a $100 million surplus, there is no money for local projects. Talk about lowering expectations.

Of course, the state's entire budget surplus would only buy us about three-fourths of Alex Rodriguez, so maybe they're right.

And speaking of the Civil War, how 'bout that John Ashcroft attorney general nomination. As quoted in Southern Partisan magazine, Ashcroft said: "You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like Lee, Jackson and Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more . . ."

For some reason, this is considered to be a revealing comment. What's next, we reject Colin Powell because we don't like his opinion of the Visigoth invasion?

Maybe Hagerstown can build a museum for all the people who assign undue meaning to an event they weren't around to witness and who try to climb inside the minds and souls of men who have been dead for the better part of a century. We could put John Ashcroft in one wing and all the people who hate John Ashcroft in the other.

Then the rest of us could reach an understanding that you don't have to be a racist kook to believe Robert E. Lee was a great man and you don't have to be commie pinko to believe that the black race deserves employment and scholarly redress for, among many other things, being denied a meaningful education for a century and a half.

But really, it matters little. Lots of folks hated Janet Reno, but did she really affect their everyday lives? Lots of people hate John Ashcroft, but will it really affect the way they buy groceries?

Come on, this is just attorney general - it's not like we're hiring a shortstop here.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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