Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Whatever Happened to the Electric Map at Gettysburg?

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

I miss the electric map. The first two times I ever went to Gettysburg I made sure to keep a time slot open to catch the show...it all its glory. The original map dates back to the 1930s, it was refitted and updated in the 1960s, and entered the National Park Service in the early 1970s. It was spectacular it its simplicity...harnessing all the technology of the mid-twentieth century: multi-colored light bulbs. Millions of people have been charmed by the direct and well paced, if somewhat quaint, narration. I couldn't get enough of it.

In April 2008, under the direction of Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent John Latscher, the map closed to the public. Here is what he had to say to the Gettysburg Times concerning his decision:

“My personal reflection, when I first saw it in the 1990s, was that it was boring - I thought it took far longer than what it should have to tell the story that it was trying to tell, and it was telling that story in a fairly antiquated means,” said Dr. Latschar. “But there’s also another aspect to my opinion: I’m red-green-brown color blind…so I have a hard time distinguishing the lights. It’s something that people weren’t thinking about in the 1930s.”

So there you have it. And I still miss the map. Oh sure, it was a little cheesy - but thinking of it brings back fond memories of my first trips to the battlefield. Somewhere in my archives, I have a cassette tape of the narration. I need to dig that up one of these days and give it a listen. As far as I know...the map has now been disassembled and is in storage somewhere in Gettysburg. I asked around last year at the CWI conference, and nobody knew where it might be.

Feel free to chip in your opinions on the map...good or bad.




  1. Keith,
    I too missed the map when I last visited Gettysburg in the summer of 2008. The map and the "cheezy" presentation had a certain beauty and dignity to me for some reason. To me old fashioned analog captures a certain essence of simplicity that is often missing in modern, high-tech, digitial glitz. Of course I'm old-fashioned and from a different generation. I can see how the old map would not cut it for the jaded younger generation. Our expectations for this kind of thing were much less. The "wow" factor was lower.

  2. The Electric Map lives on YouTube:


  3. Last I heard, the map sits chopped into four pieces in a conex container (open to the elements and wild fluctuations in heat and humidity) somewhere on the property: I had heard in a quarry somewhere in the park, but am unsure exactly where.

  4. The Gettysburg Foundation and NPS put the map in storage after they took down the building that housed it. It never made it to the new visitor center - though the 1999 management plan by congress cited it as a potential source of revenue, having more previous visitations than the Cyclorama painting.
    My firm did a study on the old visitor center, now vacant, in which one scenario was to move the building and create a map museum with the electric map as its center piece (http://cubework.com/projects/modern-preservation/). The Gettysburg Foundation has done some testing on the map and concluded it is full of asbestos and is costly to rehabilitate. I'm not sure of any further planning.

  5. I have e-mailed the park several time over the past few years asking about the map and was given a very rude response. So rude I wrote to both my senators and congressman to complain. As a federal employee I know the response was no way to respond to a request for information from a member of the public.

    That said I used the board on numerous tours which I lead over the years. I found it as an excellent way to give a good overview of the battle for youngsters to easily follow. It was particulalry helpful with Scout troops and school groups.

    I also found it very useful when I would bring groups of military personnel on tours. I could stand with my group on the Round Tops or one of the towers located at the various parts of th ebattlefield and discuss the battle from a panoramic point of view. And I could ask the participants to remember back to the lighted map for reference. Every single time I always had someone who couldn't get the spatial relationships until I reminded them of what they saw in the Lighted Map room. And every single time they would get it and be able to follow along from that point.

    While I do like the current displayes there is no place to take a group to get a quick, effective overview of the battle.

    Plus the camp[fire lights were way cool!

  6. The latest news is that the Electric Map's fate is still in doubt: http://www.eveningsun.com/localnews/ci_19887816

  7. According to a recent news report here, http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/news/display.htm?StoryID=142956, in October its new owner, Scott Roland, a Hanover, PA, businessman, had it moved to the site of a former Wachovia Bank on Carlisle Street in Hanover. He hopes the map, once restored, will be back on display for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg next summer. It's part of Mr. Roland's plan to develop the former bank building as the Hanover Conference and Heritage Center, with a goal of helping revitalize the downtown business district.

  8. The map is a great childhood memory ( 1968 ), a piece of the Americana. Hope it is ready 7/3/13

  9. In case anyone comes across this old post, the map now lives and can be visited in Hanover: