Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gettysburg Peace Light Vandalized

Last Thursday, an unknown number of miscreants desecrated one of the most visited monuments on the Gettysburg Battlefield. Obscenities are spray painted on at least five different places on the monument. I and many others are shocked and disgusted by this despicable act. Although unlikely, I sincerely hope these vandals will be apprehended and receive just punishment for their transgressions.

The following article and photos appeared in the Hanover Evening Sun:

Vandalized Peace Light Memorial may be unfixable
Evening Sun Reporter

Five plywood boards are now plastered on the side of the Eternal Peace Light Memorial in Gettysburg after someone vandalized the monument last week.

The boards block most of the words spray painted in blue and black, though one phrase - "U can't get us" - is still visible.

"There ain't no point in it, nothing to gain by it," said James Hickman, a West Virginia man who stopped by to see the monument Tuesday afternoon.

Gettysburg National Military Park officials say the damage cannot be addressed until temperatures warm up because of the monument's unique material.

"Since the monument is made out of limestone, it's more porous," said park spokeswoman Jo Sanders. "So it's going to be harder to get off."

The cleaning materials would freeze in the cold weather, so the plywood boards will remain until temperatures increase, Sanders said.

It's also likely the park will need to hire an outside contractor to do the work because the park does not own the needed equipment, Sanders said, adding that she does not have a cost estimate.

Overlooking the battlefield of first-day fighting at Gettysburg, the Peace Light was conceived as a symbol of unity between the North and South. It was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 3, 1938, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Veterans from both the Union and Confederate armies attended the service, as did about 250,000 other people.

A symbolic gas flame on the top of the monument burns at all times, and its base bears the words "Peace eternal in a nation united."

But for now, the last few letters of that phrase are blocked by plywood, where vandals spray painted their own words.

The damage, which was found Thursday, is not the worst case of vandalism in the park's history, however.

Vandalism has a history of its own at Gettysburg, said Rick Hohmann, president of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides.

"Vandalism has been a problem not just recently but almost since the inception of the park," Hohmann said, adding that records show vandalism at the park as early as the 1880s.

More recently, in 2006, someone vandalized the 4th New York Independent Artillery Battery monument by pulling the bronze artilleryman on the monument from its pedestal and dragging it 160 feet. Its head and the rammer for a cannon were broken off and never found.

Two other monuments were damaged at the same time, and park officials said at the time it was the worst act of vandalism in memory.

Graffiti is also not new to the Peace Light memorial, which park officials spent $2,500 to repair years ago after so many visitors had written their names on it.

Sanders said law enforcement is working to catch the latest vandals, but there are no leads.

Hohmann said he'd like to see a more concerted effort to investigate acts of vandalism at the park.

"I think it bothers people," he said. "By the same token, we understand that stupidity does exist."

Disturbing, isn't it? This memorial is located on the summit of Oak Hill and surrounded by guns that mark Confederate artillery positions, the Eternal Light Peace Memorial overlooks the July 1 battlefield. The dark colored stone base was constructed of Maine granite and the lighter colored shaft of Alabama Rockwood Limestone. This design feature represented the North and South reuniting as one country.

The dedication of the memorial by President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the highlight of four days of activities commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the battle and hosted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. More than 1,800 aged Civil War veterans (most in their 90s) attended this last great reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg. I hope these vandals are proud of their work...

Dedication of the Eternal Light Peace Memorial

A Scene from the Unveiling of the Peace Light in 1938. (GNMP)

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