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APRIL 2007

Take A Trip Through History

This summer, travel through time. The history that shapes our souls and teaches our children is preserved by the U.S. National Park Service, which has developed numerous historical sites including the scenes of two of this country’s most pivotal battles. These national treasures await time travelers like you.

On the green expanse of Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg National Military Park, follow the footsteps of Civil War soldiers who clashed in the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 as the fate of the nation hung in the balance. Imagine Pickett’s Charge on that sultry July day, which was doused in smoke and flames as the cannons spewed iron into the valley.

Stand atop the rolling prairie hills in Montana where the winds blew across the last breath of Lt. Col. George A. Custer in the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Imagine the desperate battle that changed the course of history for the American Indians.

Gettysburg National Military Park

The country was in a fateful clash in July 1863 when the Union and Confederate armies met at the Battle of Gettysburg. The Union victory ended the Confederacy hopes for independence.

Today, the 6,000-acre battlefield park preserves the historic scene of the battle, including many of the 22 farms that existed on the site in 1863.

“It’s a beautiful rural landscape, with a few additions. Because it was such an important event in American history, the soldiers that survived the battle of Gettysburg much later in their lives worked to put monuments here so people would not forget what happened here,” says Katie Lawhon, public affairs specialist with the park.

The rural landscape is marked with more than 1,300 monuments, including 400 major sculptures, and more than 400 Civil War cannons.

“So, besides the beautifully preserved Civil War battlefield, Gettysburg is also the largest collection of outdoor sculpture in the world,” Lawhon says.

What to see and do:

The site lends itself to walkers, bikers and even horseback riders as 36 miles of historic avenues lead visitors around the park. There is no fee for entrance to the park.

“Plan to spend some time walking on the battlefield. It’s when you step away from your car and get off the roadway and start walking into those fields or into some woods, that’s when you get a better sense of the soldier’s perspective,” she says.

From mid-June to mid-August, park rangers lead walks throughout the battlefield, giving more than 20 interpretive talks a day. Young visitors can enlist in the Army to learn about being a soldier during the Civil War or listen to stories of Civil War adventures.

Weekend encampments by Civil War re-enactors from April through October also take visitors back in time.

Every visit should include a stop at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery where 3,500 Union soldiers were buried and where President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently entwined the tragic sacrifices of the battle with the hopeful message of creating a better nation during his two-minute Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863.

“It’s an amazing speech. It’s more amazing when you read it and think about it while walking amid the graves,” Lawhon says.

More details:

For more details on the Gettysburg National Military Park, visit www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm/.

Visitor information may also be obtained by calling 717-334-1124, ext. 431.

Battle of the Little Bighorn

In 1876, two cultures clashed in a struggle on the rolling prairies of Montana in another historically significant battle. Some 263 soldiers and other personnel of the U.S. Army died at the hands of several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors.

The site is now preserved by the National Park Service as the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

“It was considered the high water mark of the Indian wars, just like Gettysburg was considered the high mark of the Civil War. This is where it reaches its height. A lot of important people were in the battle,” says Ken Woody, chief of interpretation at the site.

“The site memorializes the last armed effort of the Northern Plains Indians to preserve their way of life,” Woody says.

What to see and do:

Two areas of Little Bighorn, located near Crow Agency, Mont., encompass 765 acres—the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, where the battle ended, and the Reno-Benteen Battlefield five miles to the south, where the battle began.

At the visitor center, tourists will find the personal possessions of Custer, which were donated by his wife. The lives of the American Indians and the U.S. Army scouts are also depicted.

Continue on the sidewalk about 50 yards to Last Stand Hill, “which is one of the most famous hills in the West, where Custer was found dead,” Woody says. A memorial on Last Stand Hill stands over the mass grave of the Seventh Cavalry soldiers, U.S. Army scouts and other personnel killed in battle.

During the summer season, ranger talks every 45 minutes focus on the battle, the soldiers and the American Indian encampment.

“We really hope to break the myths that surround the battle,” Woody says. “We really want them to come away from here with a humanization of both sides. Everyone here was doing what they thought was right.”

More details:

For more details on the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, visit www.nps.gov/libi.

Visitor information may also be obtained by calling 406-638-3204.

To learn more:
To learn more about other historical sites to visit across the country, visit the National Park Service at www.nps.gov.
 
“Send The Light” An Illinois playwright
By Jeff Woodard

Can you imagine what life was like in the early 1930s in rural America without electricity? Today, we can’t even imagine living without our TVs, our microwaves, our computers, let alone a simple light bulb. We simply take electricity for granted. We also take for granted the spirit of cooperation and determination of those rural leaders who created electric co-ops across this country. “Send the Light,” a play created by an Illinois playwright, sheds a little light on that history.

“Send the Light” is a musical production about the stories of those folks who decided to take destiny into their own hands and organize rural electric cooperatives.  Don Shandrow, of New Route Theatre, a member unit of the Illinois Theatre Consortium, conceived and wrote the play in 2006 with music and lyrics by Phil Shaw.  Inspired by a speech given by National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) President/CEO Glen English at one of the annual meetings where he encouraged cooperative members to remember their roots, Shandrow thought what better way to tell the story than by the use of theatre.

In the 1930s the absence of the electricity in rural communities limited the number of available hours necessary to perform chores and limited the choices of machinery folks could utilize in those efforts.

The cities of America had already gotten a taste of the new-found luxury of light years before there was an organized effort to bring electricity to the vast countryside.  Farmers and their families could only dream of a time when the day’s toil could be lessened by the introduction of electricity.

Those who could afford it bought a Delco power plant (a system of 16 2-volt DC batteries made with glass plates and a generator) from Sears & Roebuck. It would generate enough power to provide lighting and do some small tasks on the farm.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent a great deal of time in Warm Springs, Georgia due to his health, at a retreat in the woods that had electricity.  There he became determined to bring the gift of electricity to the rural areas of the country.  Roosevelt’s New Deal created social programs that would revolutionize rural life. When the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was formed, things began to change.

Of course there was opposition in the beginning to the REA and the formation of electric cooperatives. There was doubt that farmers could run the cooperatives themselves.  In ”Send the Light” one of the characters proclaims, “I believe this interference in the economical decisions of individuals is dangerous,” and it (the program) is “bringing us one step closer to socialism!”

There was a $5 sign up fee, which also concerned others as well. However, many women and children who had dreams of clean electric heat, refrigerators and electric sweepers were especially anxious for the government to bring electricity to their homes and farms.

The play takes you through the odyssey of the building of a cooperative in the eyes of those plain, ordinary folk. “Send the Light” is a compelling story that reminds us all of the value of cooperation.

Don Shandrow’s play is insightful and recognizes change is opportunity. “Send the Light” will be available to electric cooperatives for their annual meetings. He appreciates the cooperation he received from Ruth Graves, the Missouri Rural Electric Women’s Association, Floyd Imig, Harry Kuhn (former manager of Egyptian Electric Cooperative, Steeleville, Ill.), the NRECA and the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

An upcoming performance of the play will open at the McLean County Museum of History in Bloomington, Illinois beginning April 20, 2007. 


For more information:
For upcoming performances contact the museum at 309-827-0428
or visit the Web site at www.Mchistory.org.