Written by Bobbie Greene McCarthy
Bobbie Greene McCarthy, director of Save America's Treasures at the National Trust and Debbie Maier of MailPound in New Jersey, pose in front of the summer kitchen they helped rehab as part of the Tourism Cares for America weekend at Gettysburg National Military Park.
Last week, my colleague, Fiona Lawless, and I joined more than 300 volunteers at Gettysburg National Military Park for the seventh annual “Tourism Cares for America” weekend. Begun in 2001 as the tourism industry reeled in the wake of 9/11, this education/philanthropic association of the country’s large tourism organizations has logged countless people hours in an effort to preserve and protect some of our country’s most treasured historic sites, including Ellis Island, Mount Vernon, New Orleans (twice!), the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina, and Virginia City, Nevada. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Save America’s Treasures program has had a long and productive partnership with Tourism Cares and the tourism industry, and we count ourselves among their faithful volunteers.
Participants flocked to Gettysburg from across the US and some even as far as British Columbia to help the National Park Service and the Gettysburg Foundation clear and clean the 80-acre Spangler Farm recently purchased from the family that owned it for many generations. Once restored, it will be used for the Park’s educational programs and outreach activities. The farm was the logistical center of the Union battle line and served as a field hospital for more than 1,700 wounded and dying soldiers during three horrific days in July 1863 that made Gettysburg world-famous and changed the course of the Civil War. It is best known as the place where Confederate General Lewis Armistead died after he was wounded in Pickett’s Charge on the third day of the battle.
(If the name sounds familiar to you, it’s because the Armistead family name is woven through American history. Of special note, Lewis’ uncle, Lieutenant Colonel Major George Armistead, commanded Fort McHenry in the War of 1812, defending Baltimore against the British during the attack that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the words to the Star Spangled Banner. In fact, George Armistead was given the Star Spangled Banner after the battle and it remained in his family for generations.)
Most of the Tourism Cares volunteers cleared countless tons of heavy brush and debris from the land but others cleaned the barn and farmhouse. I focused my efforts largely on hauling, shoveling and, finally, sweeping the summer kitchen, where a bronze plaque says it is the actual place where General Armistead died. For a group of desk-jockeys and tour guides with a sense of history but unaccustomed to hard physical labor, it was an exhausting but exhilarating experience. Tourism Cares did — as it always does — a magnificent job of organizing this complex event with its countless moving parts and made sure that the labor was preceded and followed by interesting and enjoyable activities — including LOTS of food and plenty to drink.
The group was treated to a lively tour of the battlefield, and a special viewing of the newly-restored Cyclorama painting (conserved thanks in part to a $200,000 challenge grant from Save America’s Treasures). There also was a special screening of a new video produced by the History Channel about the Battle at Gettysburg. In a final generous gesture, Tourism Cares and Trip Mate Insurance announced a surprise $10,000 grant to the Gettysburg Foundation for further rehabilitation of Spangler Farm.
If you’d like to know more and see pictures from the weekend, visit the Tourism Cares website, and more on Gettysburg National Military Park can be found on their website.
Bobbie Greene McCarthy is the director of the Save America’s Treasures program at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.