I drove by the new Visitors Center recently; progress is being made, and it looks like it will be ready in time for next year’s tourist season. The location is farther from tourist row and the battlefield proper, and I like the new design (the new Cyclorama building is reminiscent of a round red barn instead of the absolutely ugly concrete structure that now exists). Someone posted the floor plan on a Civil War website I frequent, and it looks to be a much broader experience for the casual battlefield visitor once completed. Galleries and displays will trace the events leading up to the battle, placing it in historic context, and then cover the three days of fighting and the withdrawal. Parts of the massive Rosensteel weapons and relics collection will be on display, and the remainder will be well cared for in a climate controlled atmosphere, unlike today’s VC. The library will be larger with better facilities for research and study, and the Cyclorama will have a new look after being restored and with ground level vignettes adding to the display. The bookstore will be under new managment (Eastern did not get the contract), so I don’t know what (if anything) that will mean for the sales of my books (which sell well at the current VC bookstore).
What is not present in the floor plans for the new VC is the time honored 30-foot by 30-foot square Electric Map that dominates the western side of the current building on Cemetery Hill. Its The current map was installed in 1963 in a new auditorium, replacing an older map designed by Joseph L. Rosensteel in 1938. Believe it or not, in all my visits to Gettysburg, I had never taken the time to view the map, even though the price is reasonable ($4 for adults). I finally went last year, just so I could see it before it is gone, sold, or moved elsewhere to a private facility (all of which are under consideration).
According to the Park Service, over 225,000 people paid the admission to see the map in 2006. It seats 554, but is rarely ever full. The largest crowds are usually busloads of school kids on their field trips to Gettysburg, and the electric light display probably bores the majority of them, who were raised on video games and MTV instead of history books and imagination. The new VC will have a 25-minute video that introduces the battle. Troop movements will be done by video graphics instead of by a painted floor display with 625 reddish orange, blue, and white light bulbs.
So, if you are planning a summer vacation trip to Gettysburg this year, make sure to stop by to see the old Electric Map before it is gone. It will evoke memories of the days when wires and light bulbs were the latest in technology before computer animation.