Once a town torn apart by a pivotal battle during the Civil War, Gettysburg is now being split asunder by another civil issue: gambling, specifically, whether or not to allow a casino to be built on a proposed hotel and conference site within a mile of the historic battlefield.
The article, "Town split over proposed Gettysburg casino," released by The Associated Press on Aug. 30 reports that "No Casino" and "Pro Casino" signs are appearing all over town.
People in favor of the casino say that it will provide jobs and bring in added revenue from the more than 1 million annual visitors trooping through the town at the heart of the Gettysburg National Military Park.
The casino's detractors say that it will, as the AP put it, "cheapen the wholesome reputation that draws tourists to Gettysburg" and "sully the character of the battlefield" where the casualties numbered as high as 57,000 in the three-day battle in July 1863.
I agree with the nay-sayers.
A tawdry casino would demean the significance of Gettysburg to our U.S. history and debauch the hallowed ground of the famous Gettysburg Address. It would stick out like a lady of the evening among the delicate maidens of hotels, B&Bs, box stores, fast-food joints and antique stores, selling authentic Civil War replicas with fresh "Made in China" stickers, that line the streets of present-day Gettysburg.
This is America. Have some pride. What they need is a theme park.
Picture it on a couple hundred acres landscaped to look like the real Gettysburg National Military Park. It would have an 1860s décor with farmers, merchants, townsfolk and troops of gray and blue wandering the streets for family photo ops. Get your picture taken with Gen. Robert E. Lee and his famous steed, Traveller.
Instead of water rides, it would have several different water fight galleries with super-shooter water guns, and participants would have to choose Union or Confederate sides before beginning. The water-shooting mega-complex, located on the re-created Cemetery Hill, would have water canons and all the water-shooting firearms would billow fake gun smoke.
In ornate theaters, actors would reenact skirmishes from the actual Battle of Gettysburg and provide intimate portrayals of key leaders, including generals Meade and Lee, and everyday soldiers, including the guy who shovels out the stables. Twice-daily showings of "The Tale of Ginny Wade: Sole Civilian Casualty" would be performed by a totally real-looking animatronic woman to put a human face on the battle's collateral damage.
Roller coaster rides through the re-created battle site would loop people around Little Round Top, death-spiral them into Devil's Den and make them lose their lunch roaring over Culp's Hill.
A special mega-movie theater, equipped with enhanced motion seating and surround sound, would treat park-goers to a documentary of the making of the 1993 "Gettysburg" miniseries — narration would be courtesy of Sam Elliott who played Brig. Gen. John Buford with deep-voiced determination and a commanding mustache.
The piece de resistance (pardon my French) would be the Civil War version of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Only instead of floating along on a boat, people would be riding animatronic horses in a cavalry regiment with the horses moving in an orderly fashion on rails cleverly disguised among native grasses and brush.
The ride would start out with the regiment walking through sleepy gray and blue Army camps, then wandering by an officer giving his men a pre-battle pep talk and coming up on a line of troops readying their positions on the field. The mechanical horses would trot their riders past a battlefield ablaze with artillery fire and straight through a surgical tent for the drama and gore. The grand finale would take the riders on a charge into battle, to take the high ground, guns and cannons roaring. When they come out on the other side of the gun smoke and moaning of the wounded, there would be ol' animatronic Abe Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address at the dedication of Soldiers National Cemetery on a brisk fall day.
Done right, tourists wouldn't even have to drive out to the actual site of the battle. This would ensure revenue plumping up local coffers and the battle site maintaining its pristine dignity. It's a win-win situation, so unlike the original battle.
Odds are this idea won't take the high ground at http://viewnorth40.wordpress.com.