W. Joseph Campbell

Wha?? A casino at Gettysburg?? Absurd and insulting

In Anniversaries, Washington Post on July 3, 2010 at 11:44 am

Today is the 147th anniversary of the conclusion of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg, a fitting time to comment about the absurd and insulting proposal to build a casino just south of the national military park.

There is no media-driven myth to address here. Instead, it’s the troubling prospect of planting a $75 million  commercial establishment, featuring 600 slot machines and 50 gaming tables, near the battlefield where 158,000 Union and Confederate troops clashed during the first three days of July 1863.

More than 50,000 men were killed and wounded in what was the war’s bloodiest battle.

The casino’s sponsors  offer the hoary if not chimeric arguments that gaming would bring “hundreds of new jobs to southern Adams County” and “generate tax revenues to support local municipal projects without raising property taxes.”

Such arguments, even if accurate, are readily trumped by the singular importance of Gettysburg to U.S. history.

More than 270 historians have expressed their opposition to the casino, asserting in a letter to the Pennsylvania gaming authority that while the state offers many prospective gaming sites, there is  only one Gettysburg.

According to the Washington Post, historians who have signed the letter opposing the casino include James McPherson, Edwin C. Bearss, and Garry Wills. “A coalition of six historical organizations, jointly representing more than 35,000 historians and researchers, has also joined in the effort,” the Post‘s “A House Divided” blog has reported.

Among those organizations is the Civil War Preservation Trust, which has pointed out:

“A casino conflicts with the heritage-based economy of Gettysburg, with its meaning in American history today, and with its future relevance.”

McPherson, who wrote Battle Cry of Freedom, the superb single-volume history of the Civil War, is notably prominent, and assertive, in opposing among the casino. He has said of the proposed gaming site, which lies beyond the boundaries of Gettysburg National Military Park:

“This ground is as hallowed as any other part of the Gettysburg battlefield, and the idea of a casino near the fields and woods where men from the North and the South gave the last full measure of devotion is simply outrageous.”

As the “House Divided” blog has noted, “This is round two of an attempt to locate a casino near Gettysburg. In 2006, after a deluge of public criticism of another proposed casino also near the battlefield, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board turned that applicant down.

“The principle investor involved in the latest bid for a casino license, Gettysburg native and business owner David LeVan, was also involved in the first attempt.”

LeVan’s group, Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino, says at its online site that the casino would “be isolated from Gettysburg.”

But that hardly would be the case. Rather than isolated, the casino would be at the battlefield’s southern periphery.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that the state’s gaming control board may reach a decision on the casino proposal by year’s end.

The renewed casino fight at Gettysburg represents another chapter in the long, never-ending, and not always successful effort to protect Civil War battlegrounds.

I wrote about this broad struggle more than 20 years ago for the Hartford Courant newspaper. My notes from that time include an interview with the then-superintendent of the Gettysburg National Military Park, John R. Earnst.

I spoke with Earnst about the commercial establishments that by then had encroached on the northern reaches of the Gettysburg battlefield.

“I think that we can say without fear of contradiction that when [visitors] come here and find the kind of development that’s occurred, they’re surprised,” Earnst said in the interview in 1988, adding:

“I’m not saying many of them react negatively to that. But they are surprised. They were expecting to find a town that is historic in appearance, that has buildings that relate back to the Civil War. What they find adjacent to the park is something different.”

A casino at the southern edge of the battlefield surely would qualify as “something different.” More than that, it would be crass, insensitive, and egregiously out of place.

WJC

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