Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Oh, no... not the electric map!

There has been some very sad news reported by The Associated Press out of Gettysburg.
Apparently the Electric Map, which so many of us as school children viewed and tried to figure out what the heck it was showing, is being eliminated.
It's not high-tech enough, it seems.
If you were a kid and were lucky enough to be on a field trip to Gettysburg, surely you experienced this. It was right up there with the Cyclorama, which suffered its own problems.
But the map ... the wonderful map!
Heck, maybe you'd even like to buy it!
Anyway, here's the AP article, for your enjoyment:

Gettysburg park pulls plug on huge electric Civil War map
Associated Press Writer
GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- For decades, visitors willing to shell out a few extra dollars at Gettysburg National Military Park could be entertained — or bored — watching an electric light display showing troop movements in that pivotal Civil War battle.
With the opening of a new museum and visitor center that offers a bigger "wow" factor for the park's nearly 2 million yearly visitors, the National Park Service has decided that its 1960s-era electric battlefield map has outlived its usefulness.
As patrons of the new $103 million facility learn about the battle by immersing themselves in some new technology, the old center stands vacant, awaiting demolition next year. Before that happens, the 30-by-30-foot electric map inside it — embedded with more than 625 colored lights — will be dismantled and placed in storage.
At least a few people who believe the map still has educational value are urging the park service to find a way to keep the lights on.
One regular park visitor has created a Web site devoted to the cause of preserving it, www.savetheelectricmap.com. Jon DeKeles, 51, of Post Falls, Idaho, said he only learned of the map's pending demise during a visit in late March, and he started the site when he returned home.
"Does everything have to be multimedia, high-tech in this world?" DeKeles said. "I haven't met anybody who hasn't said the map was informative and gave a great overview."
Emily Rosensteel O'Neil, the daughter of map creator Joseph L. Rosensteel, would also like to see the map get a new home.
The Rosensteel family built the original visitor center in 1921 to house and display battle artifacts the family had collected over the years. After graduating college in the 1930s, Joseph L. Rosensteel conceived the idea of using lights on a military-style relief map to illustrate the three-day battle; the electric map debuted in 1939.
That map, which was displayed near the museum entrance, was replaced with a larger version installed in the floor of a 500-seat auditorium in 1963, a year before Rosensteel died of cancer.
"The electric map is an artifact in and of itself," said O'Neil, 67, a retired teacher who lives in Guilford, Conn. "It was my father's masterpiece."
But from the earliest planning stages for the new museum, park officials had envisioned using newer technology to give visitors a more vivid picture of how the battle unfolded, just as the electric map attempted to do, said park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon.
The park service had never formally surveyed patrons about the electric map, but received mixed reviews from those who did comment on it, Lawhon said.
"We do know that for the majority of our visitors, and especially our younger visitors, that it was not very engaging," Lawhon said. "We were concerned about a missed opportunity for students that came through Gettysburg on what can sometimes be their one and only visit."
The new building, which opened April 14, features two film theaters that can also accommodate live performances and lectures, video and audio presentations scattered throughout the museum, and some computerized interactive exhibits.
On a Friday during the visitor center's last week of operation, about 80 people took in the map's noontime show — less than one-fifth of the auditorium's capacity. Admission was $3 for children 6 to 12 years and $4 for visitors 13 and older.
The auditorium has a boxing-match style layout, with the map surrounded on all sides by rows of folding metal seats. A portrait of Rosensteel hangs on the map's west side.
An automated recording summarizes the battle in a 30-minute program.
"Welcome to Gettysburg National Military Park. You are located at the center of one of the most famous battlefields in the world, enacted on a stage of 20,000 acres during the first three days of July 1863," a disembodied male voice intones by way of introduction.
The map's blue lights represent Union troops, and orange lights depict the Confederate Army. The auditorium lights dim at the appropriate places in the narration to simulate each day's sunset, and red lights representing campfires illuminate. The narrator's voice provides the only soundtrack — no music or sound effects.
Afterward, several fifth-graders on a field trip from Plainfield Elementary School in Carlisle gave the show a thumbs-up, including 11-year-old Lauren Baker.
"When you read a book, it's not as easy to understand as if you're looking at it and someone's saying it to you," she said.
Ten-year-old Taejon Branch didn't share his classmates' enthusiasm.
"I thought it was boring," Taejon said. "All it did was just show lights."
Plainfield teacher Patricia Crouse has led annual trips to Gettysburg for 27 years, and always included the electric map on the itinerary. Crouse said she understands that the new museum can't accommodate the map, but thinks it could still operate in a different home.
"I think it has a place in history," Crouse said. "As a child, I've been here. I've seen it for 40 years — it's part of my life."
The National Park Service has not ruled out resurrecting the map in the future.
It is also willing to turn it over to any government agency or nonprofit group that would use it for educational purposes, Lawhon said.
"We haven't had any really serious interest," she said, "but we have gotten a couple nibbles."
On the Net:
Gettysburg National Military Park: http://www.nps.gov/gett/
Save The Electric Map: http://www.savetheelectricmap.com/

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