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?”
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.