restricted access November 16: Final Resting Place (Sanctuary)

From: November

Indiana University Press colophon
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[ ∞≠∏ ] n o v e m b e r 1 6 Final Resting Place (Sanctuary) Identity is an accomplishment. —Vaclav Havel The man is still not back. What does he think, no one dies around here? Cemeteries run themselves? Tomorrow is the beginning of ‘‘Heritage Days’’ in Gettysburg. For two days, people will converge on Gettysburg by the thousands and tens of thousands: tourists, scholars, bu√s, reenactors. There will be so many men in Civil War uniforms that it will feel like there is a war on. Motel rooms are booked for fifty miles around. The reenactors will bring their own tents, firewood, cooking pots, campstools: you can already see the watch fires of a hundred circling camps. It is the 130-somethingth anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Today is my last chance for two or three days to look around without crowds, and still no cemetery superintendent! It is enough to make a man weep. All right. So I’m on my own again. The meter is ticking here; I can’t stand around with my hands in my pockets. The thing to do is carefully inspect all three possible sites. The ‘‘traditional site’’ is the easiest to see, and tradition itself has made it the most plausible. A tall monument stands at the focal point of the semicircles of soldier graves. That monument has the irrefutability of f i n a l r e s t i n g p l a c e ( s a n c t u a r y ) [ ∞≠π ] stone. ‘‘Here was given the Gettysburg Address,’’ it seems to say. Where else could the speakers’ platform have been? The new site—or rather, the actual site, or hypothetical site, that is the old site, the original site—for the Gettysburg Address has been argued for persuasively by Ms. Harrison. It is accepted as authentic (and called the ‘‘Harrison Site’’) by no less an authority than Garry Wills in his prizewinning book Lincoln at Gettysburg. But controversy exists (or existed, if Mr. Wills is correct that ‘‘at least this battle of Gettysburg has been won’’) because of that man named Selleck. The Gettysburg National Cemetery was set up and dedicated under the supervision of a board of commissioners, one from each state. W. Yates Selleck, a resident of Milwaukee, was the commissioner from Wisconsin. He was on the speakers’ platform with Lincoln. And he left a detailed description with a perfectly clear diagram of where the platform was located . Not where the flagpole stood (which became the site, probably, of the present column monument)—but not the ‘‘Harrison Site’’ up in Evergreen Cemetery, either. The so-called Selleck Site is outside the last semicircle of graves, behind the New York section. The crowd, according to Selleck, all stood on the downward slope north of the graves. Abraham Lincoln stood with the graves behind him, not in front of him. Present-day authorities dismiss Selleck’s description and drawing, but I happen to know that in Milwaukee there is nothing to do but go bowling and tell the truth. The photographic evidence—one photograph, with another taken from reverse angle supporting it once you accept that first one—shows Harrison to be generally right, however. But can you believe your eyes? Garry Wills was informed that there were no graves in the crowd’s area at the time, but I think that was not the case. Section G, I think it is, lies to the southwest of the Harrison Site, in the path of the procession and possibly underfoot during the Address. How many graves would have been too many, before the authorities would have balked, or the visitors objected? In any case, it cannot be said that there was no problem at all with graves being around the Harrison Site. There is another problem with the new site, photograph or no photograph . Frank Klement was the premier—perhaps the only—authority on the Soldier’s National Cemetery and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In his last book, Mr. Klement did not take the Harrison Site particularly seriously . He did not treat the photographs at all. (Perhaps there is good reason. In old photographs, might we not see what we expect to see? Is there something we are not seeing this time?) His doubt concerning the Harrison Site had to do with the rivalry between David Wills, who was in n o v e m b e r 1 6 [ ∞≠∫ ] charge of the National Cemetery and the...


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