|THE OLD VISITOR CENTER AS IT APPEARED IN 2002|
Gettysburg’s old Visitor Center had its flaws. It was old, and small, and the parking lot overflowed more often than not. But having visited the new Visitor Center in 2008 and in subsequent years, I much prefer the old. It’s not difficult to say why. First, I liked that the old Visitor Center was small. It was homey if crowded, and the displays, kind of back in the shadows, were cozy. Without ten million (all right, an exaggeration) people trying to crowd into one room, I could really go along and learn. I could look at the displays and listen to the electronic voices detailing the battle and get a real feel for history.
I remember three things in particular: the “wall of faces,” detailing those who fought at Gettysburg, although I can’t remember the exact name for this heart-wrenching display; a large cannon and caisson on the first floor; and display rooms chock-full of battle relics and tasteful exhibits. The muted lighting was peaceful. I never liked bright-white, in-your-face museum experiences. The fact that the museum was dimly-lit and small and somber seemed to fit well with the solemnity that a town with 53,000 battle casualties ought to express.
The building did indeed feel old. I liked that too. Gettysburg is a Civil War-era town. The fact that the museum seemed to match the “aura” and atmosphere of everything else in town was an added bonus. The only downfall was the lack of space; parking was a nightmare at times, but we always managed. The book store was always crowded, but I always found what I wanted, and there was a nice selection. As for more perks, I particularly liked the open “circle” on the second floor where you could look down at the displays on the first floor. Of course I always looked for the cannon (the beginning of a lifelong love of Civil War artillery).
In May 2008 I went out to the new Visitor Center. It was . . . impersonal. Bright, white, in-your-face, impressive to some, but not to me. I didn’t even go inside the museum itself. The shop had some beautiful things but was in my opinion much overpriced. The whole complex has a very “new” feeling although it was supposed to look “old,” whereas the old Visitor Center looked and felt old and was in a great location.
I know many visitors love the new museum and that’s their right, but I miss the old building. If they’d left it standing --- even if it remained empty --- I could have at least relived the memories every time I visited. But that building was destroyed in 2009. I watched a video of the demolition, and it hurt me. A lot. I could hardly bear to see machinery picking away at the bricks and scattering piles of debris, tearing away the insides of a building that I had always loved and where I first fell in love with Gettysburg. The video was playing the haunting Civil War melody “Ashokan Farewell.” Very fitting, I think.
This was probably the first museum I’d ever visited in Gettysburg. Probably where I grew to love cannons and other Civil War artifacts. I couldn’t wait to come here and was always very excited when we toured the museum and poked around in the book shop. My love of history had budded and had been indulged here. I miss the past.
Pvt. Boylin was one of many North Carolinians who fell during the fight along McPherson’s Ridge, possibly while repelling the Iron Brigade. The battle between the Tarheels and the Michiganders was considered to be some of the harshest combat of the entire battle of Gettysburg. Almost as grievous as Pvt. Boylin’s death at age 18 is the fact that he enlisted at the young age of 16 in 1861. A cenotaph was erected at Eastview Cemetery in Wadesboro, North Carolina, but his actual burial site is uncertain.
PVT. WILLIAM C. BOYLIN
Co. C, 26th North Carolina Infantry
Born 1845 --- Died July 01, 1863 at age 18
(c) Skies of Blue and Gray