Commonplace Book #87

The [Gettysburg] Chamber [of Commerce] also…attempted to revive the lucrative nineteenth-century rituals of monument building and reunions.  Hoping to nurture the Southern trade, the Chamber encouraged governors of Southern states to erect monuments to their fallen heroes.  Appreciating the power of wizened veterans to draw media attention, the Chamber invited the GAR for “one glorious encampment once more” in 1926 and the United Confederate Veterans for a seventieth reunion of the battle in 1933.  The onset of depression appears to have dampened these initiatives along with tourism, but in casting for ways to revive the sunken industry, the Chamber tried again in the late 1930s as tourism resurged.  With Americans clinging to their past for reassurance during the economic crisis, the Chamber launched the enormously successful seventy-fifth anniversary celebration in 1938.  A mix of patriotism and spectacle featuring doddering veterans and what the Philadelphia Inquirer called a “monster military parade” of whippet tanks, bombers, and other military hardware, “The Last Reunion of the Blue and Gray” flooded half a million visitors into the town lavishly adorned by a decorator who had festooned every presidential inauguration since Woodrow Wilson’s.  More important, as a national festival illuminating a dreary decade, the spectacle that featured the upbeat President Franklin Roosevelt thrilled the media.  Over one hundred print and broadcast journalists set up camp and required thirty-five miles of wiring to churn our radio, newspaper, magazine, and newsreel features.

Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine, 133-134.