Iconic Electric Map Destined For Storage, Scot Andrew Pitzer, Gettysburg Times, February 23, 2009.
The iconic Electric Map that entertained tourists for generations at Gettysburg National Military Park is destined for storage, and probably won’t be seen again for a very long time. When the new $103 million park Visitor Center opened in April 2008, the map’s plug was pulled, indefinitely. The map still sits within the former park complex, along Taneytown Road, awaiting its fate. “We were originally promised that it would be preserved and stored. Now what? I don’t know,” says Walton Jones, spokesman for the Rosensteel family that created the Electric Map. “The family’s feeling is that once it’s taken apart and divided into sections, it won’t be seen again.”
According to GNMP spokeswoman Katie Lawhon, the gigantic map will be “cut into sections” — probably three or four pieces — and moved out of the old visitor center to a storage facility. The top layer of the map is made of friable asbestos, so it will have to be removed before the map is transported elsewhere. A multi-million dollar battlefield rehab project aims to demolish the old visitor center and restore Ziegler’s Grove, where the facility presently sits. Bids for the project were sought before Christmas, but no contract has been announced. Initially, the park had hoped to begin the demolition in December 2008.
“One of the first things that the contractor will do is set up a base of operations in the old visitor center parking lot,” explains Lawhon. “The first part of the job will be to remove the map.” It is unclear, specifically, where the map will be stored. The map is 30 by 30 feet, or 900 square feet, made of plywood and affixed to a steel frame. Jones hopes that the park considers the basement of the new visitor center as a home for the map. The basement is currently occupied by the thousands of artifacts that are not on display in the museum, and it is a climate-controlled environment.
“There aren’t too many places that are large enough to accommodate it,” says Jones. The Gettysburg Foundation, the park’s management and fundraising partner, conducted a feasibility study on the map, determining its weight, removal methods, and among other details, the materials that the map is made of, according to Lawhon. The Gettysburg Times asked for a copy of the study, but the foundation has not responded to the request. “The current plan is that we may be able to use shipping containers,” Lawhon says regarding the removal process. “We could cut it into three or four strips, one per container, and then store it at one of the park’s buildings for preservation and possible future use.”
Relatives of Electric Map inventor Joseph Rosensteel had hoped his creation would remain on display, somewhere. Two years ago, the park entertained offers for the map, but there were stipulations. For example, the ownership group had to be non-profit, and located outside of the Gettysburg tourist area, because the park and foundation didn’t want the map competing against the attractions at the new visitor center. “They didn’t want the map competing against the attractions at the new visitor center,” says Jones. “I know they offered to give it away for free, but when the groups came to town to see it, they backed away.”
For decades, the map was the primary attraction at the park, delighting visitors — or according to critics, boring them — with 625 flashing Christmas bulbs that illustrated the movement of troops during the Battle of Gettysburg. But the map was never incorporated into the plans for the new Battlefield Visitor Center, a near 15-year project. When the new $103 million complex opened in April 2008 along the Baltimore Pike, the doors to the old facility closed.
The plug was pulled on the Electric Map, and it was replaced at the new visitor center by a 22-minute feature film. Sales for the movie floundered so badly at first that the Gettysburg Foundation and park insisted that they had no choice but to adjust ticket rates. The park now charges a flat fee to see the facility’s three primary attractions — the movie, Cyclorama painting and artifact museum — even though officials promised during the planning stages of the project that the museum would be free to the public. “I’m still convinced that the map is the best way to learn about everything about the Battle of Gettysburg in 20 minutes, but they disagree and I have no idea why,” says Jones.
The most recent version of the map was produced in 1962-63 by the Rosensteel family. According to GNMP Supt. John Latschar, the map generated about $777,900 annually over the past five years in gross receipts. The high point of visitation during the park’s operation of the map was in 1994, when about 465,000 attended the program. By 2007, the last full year that the map was open to the public, attendance had fallen by 45 percent to 250,000.
Text Source: Gettysburg Times, February 23, 2009
Photo Source: Baltimore Sun, Civil War Librarian Post