Gettysburg’s Electric Map blinking in finale season

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This is a view not commonly seen by those visiting the Electric Map – its underbelly. For a topside view, see below. Some map stats: The map is a 30-foot square. It was built in 1938 and installed in its own 554-seat auditorium in 1963. Number of light bulbs? 625. Background posts: Q&A on new Gettysburg visitor center, old Electric Map and Gettysburg’s vaunted Electric Map to soon stop blinking. For numerous additional Civil War-related posts on this blog, see this category.

Gettysburg’s Electric Map is for sale.
Soon, the low-tech map that for decades has oriented visitors to the Gettysburg Battlefield will not be part of the National Park Service’s offerings.
Two observations:
The most memorable part of the presentation is the announcer’s comment that Southern forces arrived at the battlefield from the north and Northern troops entered the field from the south. Those who have followed York County and the Civil War know that a whole division of Southern troops — 6,000-plus men — who, indeed, entered the field from the north — had just arrived from the east.
Got that?
Those were Jubal Early’s men, who had countermarched to Heidlersburg in Adams County, northeast of the field, after reaching York and the west bank of the Susquehanna in Wrightsville.
Also, park service stats place Electric Map visitors in 2006 at 228,792 people. At an average price of $3.50 a ticket, sounds like a pretty good business opportunity for someone who wants to preserve the Gettysburg icon. (To see how the park service will handle the map, view the post shrinkwrapping ).
The York Sunday News story follows: ….

Students slumped against one another in the dimly lit room. An older man sat with his arms crossed, head down, eyes closed.
Below them on a 30-foot-square map, tiny colored light bulbs blinked on and off to show the position and movement of troops – a blue shade for Union, orange for Confederate – during the bloody three-day battle as a narrator spoke.
When the original Electric Map was built in the late 1930s, its lights were an advanced way of giving visitors an overview of the battle. But one day last week, the program just wasn’t working for eighth-grader Jesse Sierra.
“I fell asleep,” said Jesse, who was on a field trip from St. John’s Lutheran School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “The guy that was speaking had a very boring voice. But the lights were fun.”
When Gettysburg National Military Park’s new museum and visitor center opens in 2008, the Electric Map will be traded for more modern technology. But for now, the map’s all the park has to give visitors an overview of what happened there in 1863.
The first map was built in 1938 by Joseph L. Rosensteel using research from War Department records to locate the position and movements of troops and mark them on the topographic map, according to the park.
That map was in use until 1963, when a new version was built in its own auditorium.
That’s the version park visitors see today. The park bought the current visitor center building with the map in it, said Scott Hartwig, supervisory historian at the park.
Over the years, the map’s seen some changes. The program that accompanies the map was changed because there were inaccuracies and the surface of the map was painted in the 1980s to reflect field patterns, Hartwig said.
In the 1990s, the map was upgraded so that an operator no longer has to continuously flip switches to make the bulbs turn on and off during the program, he said.
“The one thing I don’t think has changed is the little electric lights,” he said.
Making sure the lights are always functioning has been a huge task for the maintenance staff, he said.
Park officials are aware that the map is dated technology, Hartwig said.
“We know it’s not the most exciting program in the world for students,” he said. “(But) for some people, seeing the lights laid out on that big map makes them understand how the battle was fought. That ultimately is the key.”
Donna Terrasi, a teacher at St. Clement School in Chicago, said that, though some of her students on a field trip last week looked less than intrigued during the map presentation, it helps.
One year, a group of her students missed the map and were confused while touring the battlefield later.
While the map gives an overview of the battle action, it’s limited, Hartwig said. The program doesn’t offer any context about the war or the battle’s causes or consequences, he said.
When the new visitor center opens, a 25-minute feature film will do the job the map is doing, said Dru Anne Neil, spokeswoman for the Gettysburg Foundation, the nonprofit heading the project.
The film will include the elements such as troop movements that the map covers, she said, but the movie will delve a little deeper.
“One of the overriding themes of the whole museum is we want to put everything in context so our visitors can understand … where Gettysburg was in that war, a little about the aftermath,” she said. “With the film you have a little more leeway.”
The map doesn’t have a new home right now, Lawhon said. The park would like a nonprofit to take the map for educational purposes and has had a few inquiries, she said.
And Hartwig’s heard from some people who want the map to stay in the park.
“There (are) people who just love the map,” he said.

Here are a sampling of past York Town Square links to the Electric Map and Cyclorama:
- Demolition unit will soon overrun old Gettysburg visitors center position.
- Q&A on new Gettysburg visitor center, old Electric Map.
- Restored Gettysburg Cyclorama arriving in new home.
- Gettysburg’s Electric Map blinking in finale season.
- Two developers have plans for a relocated Gettysburg Cyclorama building
- Gettysburg Cyclorama critics: Reviews ranged from ‘huge dinosaur’ to ‘I was captivated’.
- Half dozen groups probe acquisition of Gettysburg’s retired Electric Map.
- Who is Bob Kinsley, builder of the new Gettysburg Visitors Center?.
- Gettysburg’s vaunted Electric Map to soon stop blinking.
- Shrink wrapping in Electric Map’s future; Gettysburg tooth heads south.
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After this season, Gettysburg Battlefield visitors will be officially oriented via a film rather than the familiar, but low-tech Electric Map.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. East Region Editor, Digital First Media. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
This entry was posted in Archives, all posts, Civil War, Events, Explanations/controversy, For photo fans, Local journalism & Web, Local landmarks, People, Unsung/obscure sites, War. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Gettysburg’s Electric Map blinking in finale season

  1. pam beacker says:

    i am soooooo sorry to hear that the electric map is going to go away…or has already gone. remember it from my childhood and took my kids to see it on the way to wandering the battlefield. had hoped to take the grandkids too. phooey!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Fred Wallach says:

    Does anyone remember the Gettysburg National Tower? It stood for 26 years (from 1974 until 2000)until it was decided it had no place on the battlefield. Sad, huh? http://www.gettysburgaddress.com/HTMLS/tower.html

  3. Let the NPS you do not want to see the Electric Map rot in a barn. http://www.savethelectricmap.com

  4. Linda Fanslow says:

    The electric map was very helpful to my late husband and me. It really brought the Battle of Gettysburg alive for us. In fact, we wished we could duplicate it for his American history classes in Kingsport, Tennessee! Let’s hope it is updated or saved!

  5. Jim says:

    What is wrong with so-called “low-tech”? That map has become a piece of Gettysburg history all on its own. I have used it many times to remind myself of battle events and to introduce friends to the battlefield. I think that map is a treasure and it should be preserved. In America, we are very good at demolition. This map deserves preservation.

  6. Jim McClure says:

    Jim, I’m thinking the only solution to this is for someone in the private sector to buy it and operate it as a business. The park service put it up for acquisition from the private sector but there were no takers. I, too, think it’s a loss, so keep up the dialogue. Maybe it will convince someone to invest in the map and open it to the public.
    Jim McClure

  7. Jimmie says:

    If the map is to be saved, it has to be incorporated into an existing business. The map is too low-tech to survive as a stand-alone attraction. I just saw the movie at the new visitor’s center and, while it is good, it does not do as good a job as orienting visitors as the electric map did. The electric map did a great job of orienting you as to where all the action happened in relation to the old visitors’ center.

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