Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Scratchin' my head. . .

The Alexander Gardner photograph above is among the most famous/most recognizable in the vast annals of Civil War photography. It was taken on September 19, or maybe the following day. The dead soldiers were most likely Confederate troops from Parker's Virginia Battery or Joseph Kershaw's brigade of South Carolinians. But which unit they belonged to is irrelevant. What is important is that the photograph shows the horrific consequences of combat.
A larger-than-life copy of this photograph is what visitors see immediately upon entering the Antietam National Battlefield's Visitor Center. It is a sobering reminder of what happened on the once peaceful farming fields along the Antietam Creek just 145 years ago. Most visitors are familiar with this photograph. For those who are seeing it for the first time when they walk through the visitor center doors, well, most are struck by its gruesomeness, leaving many to just shake their heads in disbelief. A few, however, have quite a different and quite vulgar reaction.
Now, I have seldom used this blog to rant, but over the past two years, I have seen a number of visitors actually lay down on the floor of the visitor center, below this photograph and pretend as if they are one of the dead soldiers. A smiling friend, or worse, a parent takes their picture. It is just unbelievable. Now, this has happened maybe a dozen times since I have been at Antietam, and most of the time it was a kid who posed. But once I saw a grown man do it! I shake my head and wonder to myself what makes people think this is appropriate? And I have to wonder, too, if in 145 years from now, in 2152, if people will pose under a photograph of American soldiers killed in action during our present war in Iraq?


Cory Newby said...

John, a fantastic post that mirrors my own feelings about the behavior of some visitors to Antietam Battlefield. While not as egregious as the example you gave, I was at Burnside Bridge recently with my 4-year-old son when we came across a family of five swimming in the Antietam creek beneath the arches of the bridge. There was the typical screaming and laughter one might expect at a backyard pool. Soon the father came up on the bridge to take a photograph and yell at his children. He chose to hop up onto the side wall of Burnside Bridge and walk down the wooden planks that cover the top of the wall.

Well, it was too much for me.

"Excuse me, sir. Do you realize this is a historical bridge that you could damage by walking on it that way?"

He reluctantly hopped down without a word. Then I set a bad example for my son. We went back to the truck and as we rode down the bluff from the bridge, I flagged down a Ranger and tattled just as my son does so often (for which I often counsel him).

I don't know what happened after I left, but the Ranger drove up the hill with a purpose with his words "I'll take care of it," still ringing in my ears.

John, sorry to hit you with a "me too" story, but I am relieved to hear that I am not alone in the belief that a mercifully small percentage of visitors to Antietam need reminding that they are in a place that deserves reverance and reflection -- not a family fun park.

Cory Newby

John David Hoptak said...

Thanks for your comment and for "tattling." It is very much appreciated. Hope to see you at the park sometime soon.


Sarah said...

Hello Ranger Hoptak,

It's so unfortunate that some people do not know how to show proper respect.

I am always amazed at the amount of disrespect shown when people visit Gettysburg. Part of me wishes all visitors would have to go through a brief lesson on how to behave properly and show respect before being allowed on the fields.

The worst thing in the world, I feel, is when people walk on the headstones in the Soldiers National Cemetery. Argh!

- Sarah