, Newburyport, MA

October 8, 2013

Gettysburg in lockdown

William Hallett

---- — So here we are in a government shutdown. This isn’t the first time, but it may be the first time with little prospect of compromise. The White House definitely doesn’t want to compromise and the more they stand firm, the more the other side does.

A regrettable byproduct of this has become the situation with our national parks. When they were established, they were meant to be open for all the people to enjoy. Whether it’s the beauty of Yellowstone, the preserved Everglades, the vast Grand Canyon or the humility of the World War II Memorial, the idea was for Americans to have them to visit, behold and enjoy.

With the exception of manpower to run certain parts, perhaps a visitors’ center or museum or some security, most of these parks are not tended by mankind one iota, but allowed to be as they are.

The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., is open 24/7 and at normal times, has various entry points and never even has a turnstile entrance. Still, when this began, a fence or barrier had to be created to block it. Fortunately, greater minds prevailed for those WWII vets from Mississippi who wanted to see it, and they were allowed access.

Large national parks are locked down now too. But, another possible consequence is an upcoming date that will only pass us once in our lifetime and could easily get tossed aside and become a casualty itself.

On Nov. 19, 1863, President Lincoln read a 2 1/2-minute speech at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. The devastating battle that took place in July of that year left many in the country wondering why the war was still going on and what was the final meaning of it all. Over 50,000 men were killed, wounded or missing in that battle alone in just three days. This would be the country’s first national cemetery and Lincoln, in a most poetic manner, gave the country some meaning for it all. And it was done without a teleprompter!

Groups such as the Sons of Union Veterans, Sons of Confederates Veterans, Civil War Roundtables, re-enactors and living historians converge upon Gettysburg each November to honor the men from that battle. Literally thousands descend on Gettysburg this time of year from across the country.

My wife Liz and I lead a small group that flags the New England graves in this Gettysburg Cemetery and a ceremony we participate in places a small twig of rosemary on each grave as the placer reads the name of the soldier buried under that stone. Rosemary is the plant of remembrance and by this action, the soldier is NOT forgotten, even after 150 years.

In less than two days after the shutdown, the National Park Service canceled ALL events for the month of October. This was, of course, after blocking all access points to the battlefield and closing the cemetery gates.

Even people who stop by the side of the road, such as Chambersburg Pike, to see monuments along the side of the road, are told by park personnel still on hand to move along. Foot-traffic is not permitted and fines are to be levied.

If the shutdown continues into October without much if any change, November could see the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Remembrance Day and the parade that follows with a few thousand re-enactors marching the same route Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of War William H. Seward took, become nothing but another cold November day in the town of Gettysburg.

We wait and watch to see the fate of November in Gettysburg.


William Hallett lives in Newburyport.