Most people who know the whereabouts of their own behinds are aware that some acts are to be avoided under almost any circumstances, and that such acts include desecrating graves, damaging public property, and collecting artifacts in a national park.
Coy Matthew Hamilton managed to do all three at the same time when he took it upon himself to dig up the probable remains of a Confederate soldier at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.
Hamilton admitted to investigators that he found the remains while canoeing with a friend in February 2011.
Described in case documents as an “avid, self-taught amateur archaeologist who routinely spends his free time hunting for artifacts,” Hamilton set out in the canoe after recent heavy rains, as he “knew from experience that this could reveal archaeological artifacts.”
On the afternoon of Feb. 27, Hamilton and a companion spotted a bone sticking out of an embankment. “Hamilton excavated two femur bones and pieces of a pelvis,” according to a report.
His companion urged him to stop, “but Hamilton’s enthusiasm was too strong.
Calling this guy “an avid, self-taught amateur archaeologist” is like calling somebody who swipes a few hundred bucks from a cash register “an avid, self-taught amateur numismatist.”
The small American Revolution museum in New Hampshire—which boasts two eighteenth-century buildings and an original Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence—has been forced to lay off all staff members.
While looking up some information on Cumberland Gap I ran across something that all you heritage tourists and genealogists out there might enjoy. It’s a firsthand account of one man’s long-distance bike ride through the Gap and along Boone’s Wilderness Road, following the same route his ancestors took all the way to Indiana.
If you drive along U.S. Route 58 in Lee County, VA you might notice a distinctive geologic feature a few miles east of the entrance to Wilderness Road State Park and just inside the eastern boundary of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Atop the ridge of Cumberland Mountain sit the “White Rocks,” a sandstone formation containing light-colored quartzite that shines when the sun hits it.
In the late 1700′s the rocks were an important landmark for the hundreds of thousands of settlers traveling on the Wilderness Road below. The sight of this outcrop let migrants know that they were about a day’s march away from Cumberland Gap, which offered a passage through the mountain wall into Kentucky. (Today you can drive from White Rocks to the Gap’s opening in fifteen minutes.)
I doubt any of those frontier migrants felt like climbing to the top of the ridge to see what the valley looked like from the rocks; they had more important things on their minds. Today, though, if you want to check out the view from White Rocks, there’s a three-mile trail that will take you there. That’s three miles one way, mind you, and it’s mostly uphill. Not exactly easy, but you can take in some nice scenery once you get there.
Sort of a bird’s-eye view of Daniel Boone country. Actually, I guess it is a bird’s-eye view, since you’re eye-level with the birds.
If you’re going to hike to White Rocks, make sure you see Sand Cave, too. It’s about a mile from the White Rocks overlook, and on the other side of the ridge. I’d never been there before last week, but as soon as I saw it, it immediately became one of my favorite places in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
The cave gets its name from the fine sand that covers the floor. There’s a small waterfall near the cave’s entrance. My pictures don’t really do it justice; with the waterfall-fed stream running through the trees and the cave’s ceiling towering overhead, it’s like stumbling across the Garden of Eden. It’s not a deep cave, but the semi-circular roof towering overhead and the wide entrance make it pretty spectacular. The sand inside is so thick that it’s like walking on a beach, with your feet sliding and churning all over the place.
The report, which examines Civil War battlefield preservation over the past twenty years and offers some recommendations for the future, went online today at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/battlefields. The NPS will be taking comments until October 12, so take a look and sound off.
The original, honest-to-goodness Electric Map is up for grabs at a government auction site (with a tip of the hat to Brooks Simpson).
Need the perfect gift for that Civil War buff who has everything? Look no more. He’ll be the envy of all his fellow CWRT members. Oh, Bob, I heard your kids bought you another Kunstler print. Here, step into the living room for a minute and I’ll show you what the wife picked up for my birthday.
But wait, there’s more! During the holiday season, the Electric Map doubles as a festive lawn decoration! With a simple bulb reconfiguration, Longstreet’s July 2 attack on the Union left transforms into two elves dancing atop the words JOY TO THE WORLD.
All joking aside, think about this for a minute. On several occasions we’ve noted how an individual’s personal memories sometimes intersect with collective historical memory. When you’ve been visiting a site for many years and it’s become the locus for many fond recollections, you come to regard it as much for its personal nostalgic value as for its objective historical significance.
Now, consider how the Disney parks cater to hardcore fans. Some Disney rides stay in operation for decades, acquire enthusiastic followings, and become venerable institutions in their own right. A few years ago, the folks at the Mouse introduced a line of commemorative pins which contain tiny pieces of the actual attractions themselves, removed during refurbishment or when a ride is dismantled. They’re like little pop culture reliquaries.
Thus Disney enthusiasts get to have a tangible connection to something that’s dear to them, and the parks make a little money. Maybe historic sites are missing out on the nostalgic market. The uproar over the Electric Map and the Cyclorama building indicate that we’re a pretty sentimental bunch.
CNN Travel lists twelve top destinations for Civil War buffs. Lists of this sort make for great debate fodder. I’m actually pretty satisfied with these choices, except I’d be tempted to replace Mobile Bay with Ft. Sumter. If you consider Springfield a Civil War destination with all of its Lincoln attractions, then you could probably throw that one in, too.
What we really need is a list of the top Rev War spots. The tricky part would be deciding what constitutes a “location.” Does the Philly area get one slot on the list, or do you separate Independence National Historical Park and Valley Forge? How about Williamsburg and Yorktown? And what in the world are we going to do about Boston?
A few items for your edification as you kiss your summer goodbye.
- Joel McDurmon argues that David Barton failed to make his case in The Jefferson Lies. The reason this is noteworthy is because McDurmon’s piece is posted at the American Vision website. This organization calls for a nation “that recognizes the sovereignty of God over all of life, where Christians apply a Biblical worldview to every facet of society. This future America will be again a ‘city on a hill’ drawing all nations to the Lord Jesus Christ and teaching them to subdue the earth for the advancement of His Kingdom.” It’s pretty interesting to see Christian Reconstructionists taking Barton apart. (Hat tip to John Fea)
- A few months ago Connecticut rolled out a $27 million tourism marketing campaign organized around the slogan “Still Revolutionary,” which “speaks to Connecticut’s deep roots in the founding of this country and reminds us that we still have that independent, revolutionary spirit,” according to Gov. Daniel Malloy. It’s a little odd, therefore, that Fort Griswold (site of the 1781 Battle of Groton Heights and one of the state’s most important Rev War attractions) is conspicuously absent in the ads that have been released so far. It’s the thought that counts, anyway.
- In a new book, Robert Sullivan does for the Revolutionary War in the middle states what Tony Horwitz did for the Civil War in the South.
- Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg is getting a new museum, slated to open next July.
- An Illinois Lincoln fan is heading out on a cross-country trip to read the Gettysburg Address from the steps of every state capitol. If my reckoning is correct, that adds up to about an hour and forty minutes of actual speaking time.
- Speaking of Lincoln, the folks at Simon & Schuster know an opportunity when they see one.
Like most people, when I visited Appomattox Court House I was mainly interested in seeing the McLean House. The tiny parlor looked much as it did on that day in April 1865, or at least the way it looked in the painting I recall from my fourth-grade textbook.
But the appearance is a little deceptive. That photo doesn’t show the actual table where Lee sat, and its oval counterpart on the other side of the room isn’t the table used by Grant. In fact, the entire room is something of a replica. The McLean House had quite an eventful career after the two generals left. Purchased by speculators intent on turning it into a museum, it was dismantled in 1893 and then rebuilt after World War II. What you see is basically a reconstruction using original materials.
I knew this when I walked inside, and presumably most other visitors do too, since NPS signage explains the structure’s complicated history. But I still wanted to go inside and be in that room, and once I was in there I forgot all about the fact that it’s sort of like an illusion. All historic house museums collaborate with their visitors in this game of make-believe. The museums use furnishings and paint to mask the building’s post-historical afterlife, and visitors suspend their disbelief and take the restoration for the way it actually was.
Or at least we hope they’re suspending their disbelief. Some visitors, no doubt, assume when they visit historic buildings that the people who lived or worked there just walked off and left it intact, right down to the candlesticks, and there it sat like a hermetically sealed time capsule down through the decades until the tour guides came in and laid down carpet runners and velvet ropes. Interpreters must walk a fine line between two opposing responsibilities, maintaining the illusion while explaining its boundaries at the same time.