Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent John Latschar isn’t taking all the uproar over the new Museum and Visitor Center lying down. Check out his thoughtful response to the critics, to which Kevin Levin refers over at his Civil War Memory blog.
Latschar’s remarks underscore the importance of audience and aims. A visitor center at a major site like Gettysburg can’t cater solely to hardcore experts. To do so would be a dereliction of duty. I think it’s perfectly valid to question whether or not the NPS achieved its goal of educating the average visitor, but to question whether that goal itself its valid misses the point of museum exhibits and of historic sites in general.
Let’s assume you’re a convicted mail-bomber who’s currently enjoying the hospitality of the federal government. Imagine your surprise when you open the Washington Post and find that Washington, D.C.’s Newseum has a special exhibit (“G-Men and Journalists”) about the evolving relationship between the media and the FBI–and the centerpiece is the cabin in which you lived.
So what do you do? Well, if you’re Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, you send a letter of protest to a federal court. According to this news story, Kaczynski thinks the exhibit violates his victims’ wishes to avoid undue publicity. How thoughtful.
Besides the Unabomber cabin, “G-Men and Journalists” includes Hoover’s desk, Dillinger’s death mask, and the electric chair that killed Bruno Hauptmann. Controversies aside, this looks like a fascinating exhibition for anybody interested in the history of American law enforcement.