Commonplace Book #85

A variety of cottage producers as well as peddlers of Gettysburg bric-a-brac came and went between 1884 and the 1920s.  John Good, who at the turn of the century produced wooden pistols, jewelry boxes, and statues, made batches for large excursions in advance after determining what type of souvenirs the excursionists might purchase.  Like vials of water from the Jordan River or letter openers made from Mount of Olives wood, many Gettysburg souvenirs bore direct association with the sacred ground itself.  Tiny glass viewers containing different park scenes were placed inside minie balls; small cannon were fashioned from battlefield metals and wood; battlefield clay furnished raw material for miniature monuments, cannons, or canteens.

The view that such kitsch profanes sacred spaces fails to consider the social and psychological function of such goods.  G[rand] A[rmy of the] R[epublic] posts prominently displayed Gettysburg relics and used gavels, inkstands, and podiums crafted in Gettysburg for conducting rituals.  Souvenirs widened Gettysburg’s access as much as improved transportation did.  In an era enjoying an effusion of consumer goods, souvenirs seemed all the more precious because they were special commodities connected with a sacred place.

Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine, 70.

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