Remember the Electric Map in Gettysburg? It is in storage but may soon be disposed of

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The Electric Map tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg in one of its last days of operation in 2009. Like its longtime neighbor, the Cyclorama building, the mothballed map’s future is in doubt. Also of interest: – Electric Map heads toward shrinkwrapping; Gettysburg tooth heads south.

In 1999, newspaper accounts told of the Electric Map, that decades-old guide describing the Battle of Gettysburg, was reportedly broken up, shrinkwrapped and stored in an undisclosed National Park Service location.

Meanwhile, the Visitor’s Center, which surrounded the map, was taken down and a new center erected away from that part of the battlefield.

Now, park service officials are saying the stored Electric Map presents an asbestos threat and options are being explored to dispose the former attraction.

The Hanover Evening Sun reported (2/3/12) these developments as well as concerns by preservationists about the map’s future:

It’s been 50 years but the memory of a field trip to view the Electric Map is still fresh for one Gettysburg man.

John Longanecker remembers the pretty girl in the back of the bus, the outdoor Coca-Cola machine and the massive display of flashing lights that inspired generations of school children.

“There are literally thousands of people who remember the electric map from their childhood,” Longanecker said. “It’s a piece of Americana. It’s something of a symbol – an effort to teach a history lesson in a different format.”

Still, the National Park Service is considering disposing of the map because it’s contaminated with friable asbestos.

“I must determine the most environmentally appropriate and legal way to dispose of the map,” explained battlefield Superintendent Bob Kirby.

The map was mothballed in 2009, after the new Museum & Visitor Center opened. Built more than 60-years-ago, the map was restored in 1963 for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. It depicts troop movements with colored lights flashing across a topographically accurate surface.

Other battlefields – nearby Monocacy outside Frederick, Md., for example – still use such maps to depict fighting.

When the new Museum & Visitor Center opened, the map was replaced with a 20-minute movie, “New Birth of Freedom,” narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Soon after, park officials pitched a plan to create a film based on the Electric Map presentation. The idea was that the Electric Map film would offer an alternative to the museum’s current film, but three years passed and the idea never developed.

Longanecker said the Park Service doesn’t have the right to determine the fate of the map.

“The Park Service does not own the electric map. We the people of the United States own it. They are just the custodians,” he said. “Here you have a small group of people, they’re not elected, and they want to destroy fundamental values.”

The map, in pieces, now sits in storage; the Park Service has offered to give it away, but has said in the past it can’t find a taker with the space to display it. And the exact location of the map has remained a secret.

The Gettysburg Foundation operates the visitor center and is storing the map. Foundation spokeswoman Cindy Small said the location is secret to keep the map “safe and secure.”

But the need for secrecy has baffled Pamela Eckert Jones, the niece of the map’s creator.

“I feel the public has a right to know where it is,” she said. “I don’t know why they make it out to be some great secret.”

At the old visitor center on Taneytown Road, the map could be viewed by the public for $4 a ticket. Park officials ultimately decided not to reopen the exhibit at the new site on Baltimore Pike. They cited a lack of interest from the public and an opportunity for new technology.

A large part of the map’s attraction was its low-tech appeal. Years after its closure, it remained dear to many longtime battlefield visitors, and people reportedly still ask to see it.

“They don’t deserve to destroy the things other people cherish,” Longanecker said. “This is part of my growing up experience, part of my childhood. And for the Park Service to come along and want to dispose of that, well, it’s reprehensible.”

It could take several months before a final determination is made on the future of the map, according to Kirby.

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.

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.
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3 Responses to Remember the Electric Map in Gettysburg? It is in storage but may soon be disposed of

  1. Rob says:

    Glad it’s gone and that they’ll probably never bring it back. Most people who remember it and cherish it do so through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia. In other words – they remember it being better than it actually was. Let’s face it, the Electric ‘Nap’ was old and boring and would do little to entertain people (especially kids) today. People used to fall asleep watching it back then so what would kids do now! I would have NO PROBLEM if the NPS did a modern version of the Nap, but for now this piece of junk has got to go. Give it a full military burial with honors and then FUGEDABOUTIT.

    • Jim McClure says:

      Rob, Thanks for comments. Seems like there could have been something other than all or nothing. A miniature simulator with the same narrator, for example. Seems like there was just stubbornness here and lack of willingness to find solutions./Jim

  2. Rob says:

    I agree. A miniature would be fine. They have small ‘electric maps’ at other battlefield visitor centers, i think both Monocacy and Manassas have them.

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