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Monday, 29 August 2011
A damn shame
The Free Lance-Star reports that Fredericksburg is now seeking a buyer for land where the U.S. National Slavery Museum was supposed to be built. Unfortunately, this project has been fraught with deception and questionable activity since its inception in 2002. The deadline for museum officials to pay more than $215,000 in back taxes has passed with no action and all attempts to contact the organizers have been ignored. In addition, all financial and artifact contributors have been cut off as the staff affiliated with this museum fled town unbeknownst to anyone. Back in 2007, the museum opened a Spirit of Freedom Exhibit Garden (see below), but never started construction of an actual building. I visited this site a couple years ago as part of my “Naked Historian” video series and was surprised to find it locked up and abandoned. The site has deteriorated tremendously since then. You can compare my 2009 video with FLS photographer Suzanne Carr Rossi’s photograph to see how neglected it has become. This museum had great promise and potential. I was very much looking forward to the interpretations of slave life during the Colonial era and Revolution as that period of slavery tends to be neglected in favor of the Civil War. As a local resident and member of another museum board, I seriously doubt that neither this site, nor any site will result in a U.S. National Slavery Museum. (On a related-note, you may be interested in some of my own writings on the subject of interpreting slavery in a museum setting to include Race and Remembrance at Monticello.)
Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi/The Free Lance-Star
Thomas Paine: American Socialist?
This weekend I finished penning my next piece for Patriots of the American Revolution. The article presents the story behind Thomas Paine’s controversial publication “The Age of Reason.” As the subject of religion and the Founding Fathers is debated ad nauseam, and due to the fact these guys have given us a plethora of contradictory quotes that can be used to support both pro- and anti-religious agendas, it’s actually nice to see someone who was absolutely clear in their convictions. I don’t believe anyone will ever argue that Thomas Paine was fond of organized religion, the bible, or the church. He pretty much detested all of them. My article goes into detail of his spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof), as well as the background to as why he wrote “The Age of Reason” in the tone that he did. What I find most curious (especially after writing this article) is how folks like Glenn Beck can hijack the persona of Thomas Paine in order to support their own political agendas. The irony is that Paine was radically progressive, and in some ways, socialist.
After all, this is the guy who wrote: Taking it then for granted that no person ought to be in a worse condition when born under what is called a state of civilization, than he would have been had he been born in a state of nature, and that civilization ought to have made, and ought still to make, provision for that purpose, it can only be done by subtracting from property a portion equal in value to the natural inheritance it has absorbed. He later states: Create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property. And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age. – Thomas Paine, “Agrarian Justice,” 1797
Wednesday, 24 August 2011
May 2012 talk
I just finalized the topic for my May 2012 speaking engagement at the Richmond Civil War Roundtable. The RCWRT is one of the most scholarly and respected groups in the country. It was a privilege for me to receive their invitation and I am really looking forward to the opportunity.
I had originally planned on showing and speaking about the making of the documentary film *The Angel of Marye’s Heights, but the board suggested that I consider doing a lesser known topic, more specifically, something from my book The Civil War in Spotsylvania: Confederate Campfires at the Crossroads. What we decided on is a completely new talk that will incorporate the letters of southern soldiers who were encamped in Spotsylvania County throughout the war. This will be a 40-minute extended version of the “The Life of the Common Confederate Soldier: Trials and Tribulations of Camp Life” that I presented at the Gray Ghost Winery's Civil War Authors Day. A Q&A will follow.
From 1861 to 1865, hundreds of thousands of troops from both sides of the Civil War marched through, battled and camped in the woods and fields of Spotsylvania County, earning it the nickname 'Crossroads of the Civil War.' When not engaged with the enemy or drilling, a different kind of battle occupied soldiers: boredom, hunger, disease, homesickness, harsh winters and spirits both broken and swigged. This presentation will draw from published memoirs, diaries, letters and testimonials from those who were there to give a fascinating new look into the day-to-day experiences of camp life in the Confederate army. Topics will include: religious services, disease and sickness, crime and punishment, sweethearts, sons of secession, camp slaves, and last letters home.
*I will have copies of The Angel of Marye’s Heights on DVD, as well as some of my books on hand for purchase. BTW: I am currently booking speaking engagements for 2012. Email me if you are interested. I can talk on a variety of topics including: Race and Remembrance at Fredericksburg’s Churches, Gallant Boys of the 123rd: PA Volunteers at Fredericksburg, The Great Revival During the Civil War, Jackson’s Journey: Stonewall’s 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, The Origins of Baseball During the Civil War, The Life of Mary Ball Washington, Historical Research and Writing Tips For All Genres, and more.
I’ve been spending time this morning going through the collection of old newspapers that are available online at the Library of Congress' Chronicling America website. My intent is to find items of interest related to the memory of the Founding Fathers. During my search I found this curious advertisement from the February 22, 1912 issue of The Richmond Times Dispatch. The product is Washington Crisps cereal. The advertisement is a brilliant blend of patriotism and propaganda:
To the Mothers of American Boys and Girls:
The life of this great American is the best example
of wholesome, noble, truthful living in the history of
our country, and our children should be taught the value
of truthfulness, patriotism and devotion to principle.
Impressions made upon the minds of children are
lasting, and always influence their future lives.
How important then it is that we furnish them only
the best mental as well as physical food, that their
minds and bodies may be sound and wholesome.
REMEMBER: The boys and girls of to-day are the men and
women of tomorrow.
When I look at this ad, I can’t help but recognize the similarity between this consumer-driven portrayal of George Washington and the modern-day athletes on Wheaties boxes. I have no qualms with the reverence for GW (although this is overkill). If any historic figure is truly worthy of our highest admiration, it’s probably him. That said, the fact that he is exploited here to pimp kid’s cereal is quite amusing. The customer is pitched the notion that by eating Washington Crisps, they are in some way akin to the Father of our Country. It must have worked because folks back then bought a helluva lot of this cereal.
It still works today. The difference is where George Washington used to occupy this place of reverence in the public’s eye, sports stars now prevail. I wonder if you were to replace A-Rod's image on a cereal box with any president would anyone buy it?
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
I wanted to take a quick moment and express my gratitude for all of the wonderful support and cross-promotion that I have received for my new service All-Access Battlefield Tours. From Troy Technologies and the Civil War Trust, to the Fredericksburg Tourism Bureau, I am blessed to have so many outstanding folks in my corner. AABT is already receiving international press-coverage and the buzz is growing. After months of preparation I am beyond excited for the official launch on September 1, 2011. I am also grateful to have the participation of battlefield guides Mark Jones and John Cummings.
It’s no easy thing to start a small business in Virginia, especially a tour guide service that caters specifically to wheelchair travelers. You need to create an LLC, obtain a business license, get your NPS tour permit, and find affordable commercial liability insurance. Then you need to get accessibility expertise, petition for the proper equipment, create all of the necessary media materials and advertise with both history and disability-focused publications. Next you plot your tours, prepare client handouts, hire assistant guides, and study-study-study your material. It takes a lot of money, and time, and effort, but if you do it right, the benefits are priceless. I love hiking battlefields and giving tours, so that part of the job is not “work” in the purest sense. All of the ‘other stuff’ that goes along with being a small business owner is.
So why did I decide to open a weekend business during one of the worst economies ever, in an area that is struggling to maintain its tourism dollars, doing something that no one else is doing? I guess it was a simple case of supply and demand. I saw a need and felt that I could fill it. People immediately saw the same potential and supported me in any way they could. My goal was to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to enjoy our area’s hallowed grounds, regardless of their mobility issues. Thanks to the generosity and enthusiasm of others I can now do that. Everyone with a disability should be able to visit these battlefields and have an enjoyable and safe experience, not just during the Sesquicentennial, but from here on in.
I am already looking at expansion options to include incorporating the CWT’s new Fredericksburg Battlefield Apps into the narrative of my tours. I would love to use the program’s outstanding maps and video to compliment the guide's photo book that I have already created. This capability would be especially beneficial to guests who may also have sensory or comprehension concerns. *If you know of anyone willing to donate or lend us an iPad for this purpose, please email me here.
We are also planning on working with the Wounded Warriors Program and the Paralyzed Veterans of America and will be appearing in their publications such as PN Magazine.
The next couple weeks will be filled with final preparations, but just as with my book or film projects, the end result will be a culmination of the expertise, generosity, and support of others. Tours will begin booking on September 1 for the month of October. Each wheelchair traveler will receive a special guest packet that includes historical maps, information on NPS site accessibility accommodations, travel wheelchair literature and more. I ask that you spread the word to whomever you feel may be interested. You can follow the evolution of this venture over on the AABT’s blog.
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