Friday, March 26, 2010

Grand Army of the Republic Post Re-Opens In Pennsylvania

Restored Veterans Post On Display At Carnegie Free Library, Brad Hundt, Observer-Reporter, Washington, Pennsylvania, March 21, 2010.

The men gathered on the steps outside Carnegie's hilltop library are a wizened bunch.
Gray and white whiskers sprout from creased faces and a few waistlines demonstrate how a metabolism can slow with the accumulation of years. Tentative grins show up on a few faces, but, for the most part, they're a proud, poker-faced lot.

They're all survivors of America's Civil War, a lucky contingent that managed to dodge the minie balls and cannon fire in the War Between the States and lived to tell about it. We see them in a photo taken in 1906 on the steps of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library, marking the dedication of the Captain Thomas Espy Post of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The image looms over the restored Espy Post, which reopened in February. And the rebirth of the room where Civil War veterans would gather to reminisce about their exploits and curate artifacts from the battlefield is just a part of the library's effort to become a must-see stop for Civil War buffs and scholars.

"Civil War enthusiasts are passionate," said Maggie Forbes, the library's executive director. She envisions that tourism generated by the library could even be "a linchpin for the revitalization of Carnegie." To that end, the Duquesne Wind Symphony is teaming with "Ghost Whisperer" star and Pittsburgh native David Conrad for an April 11 performance of Aaron Copland's "A Lincoln Portrait" in the library's music hall. It will be a few days after the 145th anniversary of Robert E. Lee's surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Va., and a few days before the 145th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

It will accompany "Abraham Lincoln: A Man Of His Times, A Man For All Times," an exhibit developed by the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History, which will be at the library starting April 2. Re-enactors and scholars will be visiting April 10.

The library's immersion in all-things Civil War-related is so comprehensive that, a few years ago, it staged "Our American Cousin," the farce that Lincoln was enjoying at Washington, D.C.'s, Ford's Theatre when John Wilkes Booth crept into the president's box.

"It's very unique," said Rea Andrew Redd, the director of Waynesburg University's Eberly Library and the head of a Civil War re-enactment group. "You can have a type of communion with the past there."

Named after an Upper St. Clair merchant who died in a Confederate prison camp, the Espy Post functioned in much the same way that American Legion and VFW posts do today, offering community service and a place to socialize with comrades who endured similar triumphs and trials. When the last veteran who haunted the Espy Post died in 1937, it was basically forgotten.

"They didn't know what they were going to do with it, so they locked it up," said library director Diane Klinefelter. Until the 1980s, the Espy Post was mothballed. Unused desks were shoved in the room. Coal dust covered the dishes that the veterans used at mealtimes. The roof started leaking.

Once library officials realized they had a historical treasure chest on their hands, though, they faced the Herculean task of trying to refurbish it. But "the fact that it had been ignored for 50 years is probably what saved it," Klinefelter pointed out. Otherwise, it could have been dismantled or pilfered by antique-hunters and souvenir-seekers.

A full-blown restoration of the room has always been on the library's drawing board, but a combination of donations and grants in 2008 provided the library the wherewithal to get it done. It now has its own security and heating and cooling systems and glass windows that protect against ultraviolet light. It was also studied by researchers at a Bryn Mawr laboratory to determine exactly what color the walls once were (they settled on pumpkin chiffon).

Among the items it contains are original chairs, weapons from the battlefield like swords and carbines, a uniform or two and leather-bound histories of the war and GAR posts. There's also a spittoon from those days with visible tobacco stains in it. "It was as if they were just in here," Klinefelter said.

CWL: Yes. That's my quote in the seventh paragraph.

Text Source: Observer-Reporter, Washington, Pennsylvania

Images' Source: Carnegie Free Library, Carnegie, PA

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad to see it reopen. It looks very nice. Another place to add to my Must visit list.