Sunday, Sep 25, 2016
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Gettysburg park pulls plug on huge electric Civil War map

GETTYSBURG, Pa. For decades, visitors willing to shell out a few extra dollars at Gettysburg National Military Park could be entertained or bored by an electric light display showing troop movements in that pivotal Civil War battle.

With the opening of a new museum and visitor center that offers a bigger "wow" factor for the park's nearly 2 million visitors each year, the National Park Service has decided that its 1960s-era electric battlefield map is obsolete.

As patrons of the new $103 million facility learn about the battle by immersing themselves in new technology, the old center stands vacant, awaiting demolition next year. Before that happens, the 30-by-30-foot electric map embedded with more than 625 colored lights will be dismantled and placed in storage.

At least a few people who believe the map still has educational value are urging the park service to find a way to keep the lights on.

One regular park visitor has created a Web site devoted to the cause of preserving it, www.savetheelectricmap.com. Jon DeKeles, 51, of Post Falls, Idaho, said he only learned of the map's pending demise during a visit in late March, and he started the site when he returned home.

"Does everything have to be multimedia, high-tech in this world?" DeKeles said.

Emily Rosensteel O'Neil, the daughter of map creator Joseph L. Rosensteel, would also like to see the map get a new home.

"The electric map is an artifact in and of itself," said O'Neil, 67, a retired teacher who lives in Guilford, Conn. "It was my father's masterpiece."

But from the earliest planning stages for the new museum, park officials had envisioned using new technology to give visitors a more vivid picture of how the battle unfolded, said park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon.

The new building, which opened April 14, features two film theaters that can also accommodate live performances and lectures, video and audio presentations scattered throughout the museum, and some computerized interactive exhibits.

The park service has not ruled out resurrecting the map in the future and is willing to turn it over to any nonprofit group that would use it for educational purposes, Lawhon said.

"We haven't had any really serious interest," she said, "but we have gotten a couple nibbles."

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