Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey Jr. Responds to Trump’s Use of Park Service Funds for His July 4th Event

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Independence Hall has a repair backlog

I am proud of my United States senator.  Bob Casey joins U.S. representative Dwight Evans in this statement.  Get some context here.

PHILADELPHIA (July 3, 2019) – U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA-03) and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said Independence National Historical Park already has a multimillion-dollar backlog of repairs — and the Trump administration’s raiding $2.5 million of park maintenance funding for a partisan July Fourth event in Washington, D.C., will only make national parks’ conditions worse in Philadelphia and across the nation.

Congressman Evans said, “I have met with community groups in Philadelphia about the condition of Independence National Historical Park, and I share their concerns. I have co-sponsored the bipartisan Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act to dedicate a massive funding increase to address the repair backlog at Independence Park and across the country.

“Outrageously, the Trump administration is raiding $2.5 million in park maintenance funds for the Trump-centric July Fourth event in Washington, and the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have received VIP tickets to distribute to the July Fourth event. Our nation’s birthday is supposed to bring us together and instead President Trump is apparently using it for partisan political purposes. It’s disgusting.”

Senator Casey said, “After proposing steep cuts to the National Park Service, President Trump is now wasting their limited resources on what’s essentially a campaign rally on the government dime. Philadelphia’s Independence Hall is facing more than $51 million in deferred maintenance costs alone; we cannot afford any more of this President’s vanity projects.”

Evans represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes Northwest and West Philadelphia and parts of North, South, Southwest and Center City Philadelphia.

How Churches Can Steward the Past

If you haven’t seen it yet, head over to The Pietist Schoolman and read Chris Gehrz’s “History as Stewardship of the Past.”  It is a powerful post about how churches might think about history. Gehrz calls on churches to preserve the past, interpret the past, and to make the past inviting.

Gehrz’s post got me thinking.  In Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past I challenged Christian readers to make sure they are using history correctly when they engage the public sphere.  But I say little in the book about how a church might remember its sacred past.  In other words, when a church thinks about its history it usually includes a messy mix of the past, theology, providentialism, and spiritual nostalgia.  I am not sure I would call this history, but it is something that is worthwhile and useful in the setting of a congregation.

Here are Gehrz’s thoughts on preservation:

First, recognizing that all of Creation, after the Fall, is subject to decay, we stewards of the past must work to preserve it. Not time itself — that would be the most futile erosion prevention project imaginable. But we can preserve what the passage of time leaves behind.

First, churches can invest time, energy, expertise, and money in preserving photos, films, documents, and other physical artifacts. Salem not only has an archives, but under the leadership of Kevin McGrew, a Bethel History alum who directs the libraries at the College of St. Scholastica, it has been digitizing some of its resources through the Minnesota Digital Library project.

But better yet — since it’s impossible to preserve all artifacts, or to know which will actually be most helpful in the future — we can preserve the past by sustaining our memories of it. The very act of putting up temporal milestones like anniversaries helps remind us to remember. But it needs to be an ongoing commitment of any community.

Pennsylvanians Oppose Gettysburg Casino Plans

According to this article from the website of the Civil War Trust, Pennsylvania voters “overwhelmingly oppose plans for a casino 1/2 mile from the historic Gettysburg Battlefield.”  57% of Pennsylvania voters believe that a Gettysburg casino “would be an embarrassment to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Here is a taste of the article:

The numbers also indicated that voters understand that Gettysburg is a unique economic engine for the Pennsylvania economy.  “Eighty-eight percent of state voters, and nine out of ten of those who live near the battlefield, understand that Gettysburg is a priceless economic resource for the community and should not be jeopardized by such an ill-considered scheme,” said Lighthizer. 

Although casino proponents have often and loudly declared that the majority of locals are eager for a casino in their midst, including details of the Vegas promo offer for new members for any town people who wish to participate, a separate, specific sampling of Adams County voters illustrates otherwise.  The community is deeply divided on the issue, with 45 percent opposing the casino and only 41 percent supporting it.  Opposition, however, is based on proximity to the battlefield rather than hostility toward gaming; were the chosen location further from the battlefield and national park, stated opposition falls to 35 percent of county voters.

“These findings illustrate No Casino Gettysburg’s position since the project was first announced,” said Susan Star Paddock, chair of the local opposition group.  “Our objection is to the casino’s location — on the doorstep of the Gettysburg battlefield is simply no place for slots and table games.”

Preserving the Jefferson Bible

In doing interviews for Was America Founded as a Christian Nation I am often asked about Thomas Jefferson’s Bible.  As many of my readers know, this is the Bible in which he edited out of the four gospels any account of Jesus’s life and ministry that could not be explained by reason alone.

The National Museum of American History is currently in the process of conserving the Bible in order to ready it for public display in November.  Here is a taste of the process from the museum’s blog:

How do museum professionals define the condition of an artifact, and determine whether it can be used or exhibited without harm? The answer is by very, very careful investigation, especially when the artifact is the Jefferson Bible, otherwise known as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Using excerpts from the Four Gospels of the New Testament, Thomas Jefferson arranged the text to tell a chronological and edited story of Jesus’ life and moral philosophy.

A national treasure, the Bible recently received microscopic-level examination by a team of conservators trained in both book and paper conservation and by conservation scientists who specialize in materials analysis. A University of Hawaii intern created a purpose-built database to capture all the data observed. How much data? The Jefferson Bible conservation survey database holds over 200 points of observation for each page, and over 20,000 for the entire book.

Thomas Jefferson himself between 1819 and 1820. He cut out Biblical passages which were important to him, and glued them, scrapbook style, into folios of blank paper. Verses were arranged chronologically and in columns in four translations. Next to the English language verses are columns of the same verses in French, Greek and Latin. Jefferson wrote notes in the margins in iron gall ink. The book is made from twelve different types of paper, six different printing inks, and at least three different home-mixed iron gall ink recipes. His bookbinder, Frederick Mayo, bound the forty three folio pages in a red morocco leather binding.

Also check out the accompanying video.

CNN has a similar article here.

Top Five Historical Preservation Movies

HISTPRESS, a site devoted to employment in public history and historical preservation, lists the “top five preservation movies” of all time. 

They are, in reverse order:

5.  UP
4.  Hot Fuzz
3. Sister Act 2
2. Two Week’s Notice
1. Be Kind Rewind

Go here to read the rationale for each movie and watch clips.

I must admit that I have not seen any of these movies, but I am intrigued by such a list.  Can anyone think of other movies that belong on this rather odd list?

Tradition Needs Preservation

I am still trying to figure out why the editor of a libertarian website sponsored by a leading libertarian think tank has asked me to write something for it, but here is my effort to say something to the libertarian readers of Cato Unbound on the subject of “Tradition in a Modern World.”

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living — Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”.

All the past we leave behind;
We debouch upon a newer, mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march, Pioneers! O Pioneers! — Walt Whitman

It is a great pleasure to participate in this forum and to respond to some of the ideas in Russell Arben Fox’s essay. I have been a fan of his work since the early days of the Front Porch Republic, and I always look forward to reading what he posts both there and at his personal website, In Medias Res.

It seems that before we can think about the role that “tradition” plays in the modern world, we must have some sense of what we mean by the term. Unfortunately, tradition is a rather slippery term to define. Historian David Lowenthal, in his masterful book The Past is a Foreign Country, writes: “The word’s very meaning has changed: ‘tradition’ now refers less to how things have always been done (and therefore should be done) than to allegedly ancient traits that endow a people with corporate identity. And the ‘tradition’ nowadays invoked on behalf of earlier ways is seldom alive; more often it signals a sterile reluctance to change.”

Read the rest here

American History on NPR

Early American history has been getting some good airtime on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.”

Check out yesterday’s story on Henry Clay featuring David Heidler, the author of Henry Clay: The Essential American.

Today, “Morning Edition” did a story on that eighteenth-century ship found at the site of the World Trade Center. Loyal readers may remember we blogged about this story last month. Apparently the remains of the ship are in a laboratory in Maryland and they smell a bit like rotten eggs!

Hat tip: John Saillant on H-Net listserv

Lake Placid Bobsled Track Added to National Historical Register

Once upon a time I wrote a couple of entries on the Lake Placid Olympic Games for something called the Historical Dictionary of the Modern Olympic Movement. The first edition of this dictionary included my entries on “Lake Placid, 1932” and “Lake Placid 1980,” but by the second edition the editors must have realized that they could find a better author for the “Lake Placid 1980” piece and they replaced my essay with no explanation. The 1932 essay made the cut.

I was reminded again of these essays when I saw that the Lake Placid bobsled track was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

On a related note, I was glad to see that American luger John Fee was elected the new president of the USA Luge Executive Board. As a kid, my name was often pronounced “Fee,” and during the Olympics friends used to jokingly ask me if I was a luger.

Help Save New Jersey Historical Sites and Projects

I just received this forwarded e-mail from the good folks at Garden State Legacy. If you are from New Jersey, or are part of the New Jersey historical community, it is time to act.

Governor Christie has honored his promise to keep funding to the arts, history and tourism at a “flat” level for 2010-2011 (that is no less, no more, than last year). What follows is, I believe, an unintended consequence that will cause many historic sites to close forever and numerous projects to cease.

You see, along with the flat funding, the Governor has required that four (4) major history institutions that did not apply through the competitive grants process of the NJ Historical Commission, do so, starting now. Each of these agencies, in prior years, received a “line-item appropriation” in the State’s budget. That is, their funding was accounted for as a budget items unto themselves.

Under most circumstances, requiring that the 4 groups receive their monies from the Historical Commission would be fine – but these 4 major institutions collectively receive $2,770,000 in funding! This is MORE money than is given to the NJ Historical Commission (NJHC) for all of its direct grants, for all of its grants to the Counties which are then regranted on a local level, for all of its salaries and wages and operation expenses COMBINED! The Historical Commission is slated to receive $2,700,000. (By the way, these 4 worthy institutions are Battleship NJ, Historic Morven, Save Ellis Island and the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton.

Unless YOU TAKE ACTION, unless we can convince the Legislature to address this issue, you and I, the 60 + groups that receive direct NJHC funding, the dozens and dozens small groups funded through regranting of the Counties AND these 4 major institutions will – at best – take a cut of 50% on top of the 40% in cuts over the last two years. No group can survive this! The devastation that will result, to the core infrastructure of the history community, is unimaginable.

Can something be done to prevent these devasting losses? YES

First it is important for you to know that the source of monies provided to the NJHC (and the Arts Council, the Cultural Trust and Tourism) is derived from a designated source of revenue that is the Hotel Motel Tax, imposed specifically to underwrite history, arts and tourism since we are the economic engines that drive tourism. In their wisdom, the NJ Legislature sought a means to stabilize funding to history and the arts and REMOVE them from the annual budget battles. And, this year, despite the recent economic recession, the Hotel Motel Tax generated MORE REVENUE than is needed to fund history (the arts and tourism.)

With this in mind, I am asking that you contact the Chair of the committee newly formed by the Governor, called the Committee on Arts and Tourism. (Don’t be fooled by the name, it also oversees history and preservation.) I think this is a wonderful group of legislators who are truly interested in heritage tourism and the preservation of our State’s history. They are not adversaries but interested in what we have to say. They were unaware of what was going to happen, were these 4 groups placed into the NJHC pool of funding. They said this is the minutia of the budget that is important for them to know.

So, please, write, send a fax or make a phone call. A two paragraph letter will do. Ask – if Battelship NJ, Historic Morven, Save Ellis Island and Old Barracks are moved to New Jersey Historical Commission funding, please add the equivalent dollars to the budget of the Historical Commission to allow this to happen ($2,770,000 is the dollar amount for the 4 groups). And, so as not to impact any other State agency or take money from any other important cause – to take the needed money from the Hotel Motel Tax where the dollars are sufficient for this to happen. And by the way, the end result were the additional monies provided, will be a “flat budget” for the NJHC and the history community as a whole – we are not asking for an increasein funding!

Tell the Committee what will happen to your agency were you to be cut 50% over and above the 40% in cuts we suffered in the last two years. If you have attendance figures for your agency as a whole – let them know the numbers of persons who depend on you. The Chairman is

Honorable Matthew Milam, Chair Committee for Arts & Tourism
21 North Main St.
Cape May Court House, NJ 08210
PHONE NUMBERS: (609) 465-0700 (Cape May Court House)
FAX NUMBER: (609) 465-4578 (Cape May Court House)

Secretary to the Committee
Daria H. Deakins, Secretary, at (609)292-7676, fax (609)292-0561, or e-mail OLSAideATA@njleg.org.

Beachcomber Finds 17th Century Merchant Ship Buried in the Sand

My brother bought my daughter a metal-detector for Christmas a few years ago. We took it to the beach last October and found dozens of old nails and about $2.00 in coins. We did not find a 17th century shipwreck buried under the sand, but Ray Midgett did. Read it for yourself from CNN:

Corolla, North Carolina (CNN) — Ray Midgett hunts the Corolla beaches on the Outer Banks of North Carolina almost every day.

“Beachcombing, or metal detecting, or relic hunting is in my blood,” said Midgett, a retired government worker who hits the sand between October and April.

“There are so many shipwrecks up here, it’s just beautiful.”

Midgett drives his pickup truck right onto the beach using the access road near the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. With a metal detector and shovel in tow, he’s uncovered everything from antique coins to wedding rings.

Yet his biggest discovery came in December when he located the remains of a historical shipwreck.

The wreckage, hidden under the sand for centuries, became fully exposed after a winter of brutal Nor’easters, making it the oldest shipwreck found off the coast of North Carolina.

But historians had to act fast to recover the ship, according to Meghan Agresto, site manager of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

“This winter, it just got smacked. After awhile the ocean was going to take it back,” Agresto said. “The fact that we got it off the beach makes us excited because we got to save it.”

Midgett and other beachcombers had discovered a number of relics near the shipwreck’s beach grave site, including coins believed to be from the reign of Louis XIII in France and Charles I in England, lead bale seals used for identification, and spoons dating to the mid-1600s.

Midgett said he feels a personal connection to the discovery.

“This shipwreck is a part of me, and some of the other hunters, too, that have been hunting around it for years,” Midgett said. “I’m just so glad that they decided to save it.”

The rough currents and shallow sand bars off North Carolina’s Outer Banks have destroyed thousands of ships in what is sometimes called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

However, it is rare to find the remains of a shipwreck — particularly a wooden vessel — intact.

Throughout winter, the Corolla beach shipwreck would repeatedly get uncovered and covered again. The waves would also move it along the coastline, causing damage.

“I’m glad we got to it when we did. … It may have covered back up and survived another summer,” Midgett said.

“But next winter it would have been the same thing over and it eventually would have gone to pieces.”

Midgett, who used to work as a government auditor, wanted to make sure his discovery was salvaged, so he personally lobbied North Carolina state Sen. Marc Basnight. After numerous phone calls and e-mails appealing to Basnight, a beach lover himself, he was successful.

In April, volunteers from the Wildlife Resources Commission, Underwater Archaeology Branch, the Corolla Fire Department and area residents helped free the wreck from the sand and tow it near the lighthouse.

Archaeologists originally thought the wreck could be the HMS Swift, a British Navy ship from the late 17th century that originally ran around in the southern Chesapeake Bay off Virginia’s coast.

The HMS Swift drifted to the Outer Banks, where it was looted once it hit shore, then disabled by the looters so it wouldn’t resurface.

After further examination of the ship’s 12-ton skeleton — complete with wooden peg fasteners — archaeologists determined that it was not the HMS Swift, but most likely a merchant’s ship dating to the mid- to late-1600s.

That makes it the oldest shipwreck found along the state’s coast.

“History is the one thing we have that has a reasonable amount of certainty attached to it,” said Joseph Schwarzer, director of North Carolina Maritime Museums. “It tells us where we’ve been, it tells us what’s happening, and it’s a directional sign for where you need to go next.”

Before the Corolla Beach discovery, the oldest shipwreck found along the state’s coast was Queen Anne’s Revenge, the presumed flagship of Blackbeard the pirate said to have run aground in 1718, according to the North Carolina Maritime Museums.

The remains of the Corolla Beach wreck and some of its artifacts will be moved to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum on Hatteras Island, North Carolina.

Midgett and the other beachcombers are entitled to keep the coins and other artifacts found near the ship they discovered.

“It’s very exciting to find something from this time period,” said Richard Lawrence, director of the North Carolina Underwater Archaeology Branch for the Department of Cultural Resources.

“And amazingly we found it in this beach environment. It appears this wreck has been sitting here for 350 years almost undisturbed until this winter.”

Lawrence said the discovery would never have happened without Midgett.

“Ray Midgett was probably more responsible than anybody to get this wreck off the beach,” Lawrence said. “He created enough of a stir to get various organizations involved.

“Thankfully, Ray and his colleagues collected various artifacts that would have otherwise not survived.”

HT: Jeff Erbig (former student)

The 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in America

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has issued its list of the most endangered historic places in the United States. They are:

1. America’s State Parks and State Owned Historic Sites.
We have spent a bit of time speaking and writing about this as it relates to budget cuts in the state of Pennsylvania.

2. Black Mountain, Kentucky

3. Hinchliffe Stadium in Paterson, New Jersey (pictured above).
The stadium is one of three remaining Negro League baseball stadiums in the United States.

4. Industrial Arts Building in Lincoln, Nebraska

5. Juana Briones House in Palo Alto, California

6. Merritt Parkway in Fairfield County, Connecticut

7. Metropolitan AME Church in Washington D.C.
Founded in 1821 by enslaved and free African Americans.

8. Pagat in Yigo, Guam

9. Saugatuck Dunes in Saugatuck, Michigan

10. Threefoot Building in Meriden, Mississippi

11. Wilderness Battlefield in Orange and Spotsylvania Counties, Virginia
Civil War battlefield currently being threatened by Walmart. We have blogged about this before.