Fans fight to save old-school Gettysburg map

In an age before iPhones and video games, an electronic map of the historic Gettysburg battlefield once inspired many visitors to learn more about the Civil War.

Now, a Gettysburg battlefield preservation group is fighting to rescue the map from the scrap heap of history.

“Your present position is indicated by the bright light on the map….”

That used to be true.

The 900-square-foot topographic map of the Gettysburg Battlefield, with its 627 lights indicating the movements of the Union and Confederate troops during the battle, had been housed in the old Visitor’s Center for 75 years.

It was retired by the National Park Service in 2008. The new Visitor’s Center at Gettysburg uses a movie to explain the ebb and flow of the battle to visitors.

The Park Service is thinking of auctioning off the electric map. Or, because the map includes asbestos, it might be destroyed.

Brandon Synnamon would hate to see that happen. As president of the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, Synnamon says the map has been an important experience for two and a half million visitors.

“It’s a unique experience to view this in the birds-eye angle, and I definitely think it’s apples and oranges from a pictorial – a movie – would give,” Synnamon said. ” It gives an idea of how many troops and their movements and the size and scope of the battle that you can’t get from watchng the Hollywood version.”

The Preservation Association is lobbying the Park Service to release the map into its care. Synnamon says funds could be raised to replace the old-school light bulbs, in essence “creating a more updated version of it, utilizing modern electronics and video imaging, bring it up to the 21st century.

The first map that used lighting to explain the battle opened in 1938. It was the work of Joseph Rosensteel, who grew up on the battlefield.   A second version of the electric map debuted in 1963, as part of the centennial of the battle.

Next year will mark the sesquicentennial of Gettysburg, the battle which ended Confederate commander Robert E. Lee’s deepest foray into Union territory. Together with U.S. Grant’s taking of Vicksburg, Miss., that same week, Lee’s defeat over three days at Gettysburg is generally considered to have been the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.

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