Evaluating Latschar

A reader left this comment on my previous post: “A bit off-topic, but what do you think of the NPS transferring Gettysburg Superintendent John Latschar to an in-house desk job after thousands of pornographic images were found on his work computer?”

From Wikimedia Commons

It’s a fair question.  I’ve got plenty of opinions about some of the recent changes at Gettysburg—the new exhibits, the tree-cutting, the public-private relationship—and I’ve discussed them on this blog a number of times.  For the most part, I’m pretty favorable about them.  The field is closer to its original appearance, thanks to the tree-removal and the closing of the old Visitor Center.  I like the new exhibits; I fully agree with the critics who claim that the focus should be on the battle itself, but I found that the new museum explains the battle much more effectively than the old one.  And as for the public-private partnership, I’m fine with it.  In fact, private non-profit support groups are pretty much standard for any historic site or museum that’s also a government entity.  Plenty of people will donate to a private foundation; few will do so to a government agency.  (I ran a museum for a little while that was a government department, and all our fundraising was through the private non-profit group associated with us.)  I can see how Latschar assuming leadership of the Foundation might be questionable, but the partnership with the Foundation isn’t anything but standard museum/preservation practice.

As for the computer scandal and Latschar’s transfer to a desk job, though, I’m afraid my answer is going to sound disingenuous.  I actually don’t have an opinion about it. 

I don’t know Latschar personally, of course, and I’m not privy to any information about this that hasn’t been in the press or made public.  I don’t know what the standard punishment is for this type of misuse of a Department of the Interior computer, so I can’t say whether he got off easy or not.  I will say that news of his transfer surprised me.  I expected the whole thing to blow over.

What I find really striking about Latschar’s transfer—and everything that’s happened at Gettysburg in recent years—is the public interest generated.  I can’t think of any other historic site or public historian that has generated so much passion and controversy, from the dispute over the Electric Map to this last round.  In fact, I think the Electric Map controversy has generated much, much more interest than the complete loss of Brandywine Battlefield’s state funding; the dismantling of a single exhibit got more attention than the closure of one of the most important Revolutionary War sites.

Gettysburg, in other words, is another animal altogether.  I doubt any other historic site could have been the center of such passionate discussion as has centered around it for the past few years.  I don’t like seeing so many history devotees disagree with each other, but the disagreement shows that they all care about the place—and that’s a very good thing.

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4 Comments

Filed under Civil War, Museums and Historic Sites

4 responses to “Evaluating Latschar

  1. sauer kraut

    Gotta admit that I never really liked the idea of taking all those trees down. Especially after they killed/culled all those deer because… well, because the deer were damaging the trees.

    I’d post a better story from the Fredericksburg newspaper but your comments section apparently doesn’t accept same. A reader of my blog commented on how Latschar was transfered to where ever she is and she provides a link to the online article if you care to read it.

  2. Michael Lynch

    There was an interesting post regarding the tree-cutting over at Civil Warriors not too long ago. The writer (I think it was Brooks Simpson) discussed his mixed feelings about the tree-cutting; he was glad to see the field restored, but admitted that he had gotten sentimentally attached to the park as he’d always known it. It was a sensitive and honest examination of change at a historic site and is well worth reading.

    I wasn’t aware of the deer culling. Killing them to preserve trees that were going to be cut down does seem a little odd.

    I might have accidentally disabled linking in comments. I’ll see if I can figure out what the problem is. I’d like to see the article you mentioned.

    Thanks very much for your comments, and feel free to stop by the blog at any time.

    –ML

  3. “I actually don’t have an opinion about it” is the best comment I’ve seen on anyone’s blog about this situation. Although I’m sure a few folks who have made comment know Mr. Latschar personally (or at the very least have met him at some point in the past), I doubt many of us even knew much about him past what was published in the media. Knowing how that can be dangerously one-sided I’m glad to see someone admitting that they don’t have an opinion about this; it’s pretty refreshing actually.

    I also agree with you that such things as the shutting down of the Brandywine Battlefield have been almost completely overlooked when compared to the recent events and controversies at Gettysburg. Certainly, you can’t compare too many places to Gettysburg, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the enthusiasm that Gettysburg generates being directed at some of our more endangered sites, like Brandywine.

  4. Michael Lynch

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Don’t get me wrong; I love studying the Civil War, I made a living off of ACW interpretation for a while, and Gettysburg is one of my favorite topics of study. In fact, I think I have more books on Gettysburg than any other battle. And as a historic destination, you can’t beat it. It’s an experience in its own class.

    I just want the same public interest in more visible battles can carry over into the more neglected and often more endangered sites. In other words, I don’t want Gettysburg to have a smaller piece of the pie; I want the whole pie to get bigger.

    –ML

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