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NPS Gives A Little In Controversy Over Plaques

Deborah Fitts

- (December 2007) GETTYSBURG, Pa. - An assertion by the Gettysburg National Military Park superintendent that three plaques celebrating the Rosensteel family would not be displayed at the new visitor center reopened old wounds between the park and family.

Superintendent John Latschar was asked by Rosensteel family member Walton Jones, at a meeting of the park's advisory commission in October, whether he wouldn't reconsider a decision not to mount the plaques. They are on display at the current visitor center, where they highlight the efforts of the Rosensteels to collect and exhibit relics from the battle.

Latschar answered no. But after a spate of adverse publicity in the local press the park backed down and said the 2-by-3-foot plaques will go on display in a research room when the new facility opens next year.

The Evening Sun of Hanover, which broke the story, editorialized that "you have to wonder why the superintendent was ready to look so mean and petty."

The newspaper asked Latschar to reconsider, noting, "A good general knows which battles are worth fighting, and how to seize an opportunity to win local hearts and minds instead of precipitating another bloody encounter with the natives. A good steward knows how to be a bigger person."

Four days later the Gettysburg Times weighed in editorially, calling Latschar's treatment of the Rosensteel family "disgraceful." The paper asked if "there will also not be a plaque on this monument to a public-private partnership carrying names like Babbitt, Latschar and Kinsley?"

The Rosensteel collection got its start in 1863, when 16-year-old John Rosensteel began picking up artifacts on the battlefield. In 1921 his nephew, George Rosensteel, opened the Gettysburg National Museum on Taneytown Road. George's son Joseph designed the Electric Map in 1938

In 1971 the family sold the building to the park for a museum and visitor center, and gave the park its collection, totaling 89,246 items. Before the sale, the Rosensteels mounted the plaques in the lobby, where they remain today.

Seeking to dampen the flap, Latschar issued a statement noting that, "after careful consideration," the plaques would be mounted in the new facility's collections research room, a novel feature that will provide space for researchers to view artifacts first-hand.

Latschar said he wanted to "extend my gratitude" to the Rosensteels "for their generous gift to the American people." He concluded, "We look forward to the day when visitors and researchers from Gettysburg and throughout the nation can visit this new world-class museum, experience powerful new museum exhibits illustrated so well with artifacts from the Rosensteel donation, and see these plaques as a reminder of the family's legacy."

Walton Jones suggested that the family was not mollified by the gesture to mount the plaques in the research room. But park spokesman Katie Lawhon said the park would go no further.

"We did not have plans to display these plaques," she said. "They do not fit into the museum exhibits the way they did when the Rosensteels put them up in the 1970s."

Lawhon acknowledged, "This is very personal for the Rosensteels." But she added, "In the long history of Gettysburg National Military Park we've had many different donors. The Rosensteels played a big part of that, but other, smaller donors are very important as well. We do our very best to acknowledge donor support for the park."

She pointed to the nonprofit Gettysburg Foundation as a major donor in modern times, having raised $95 million to build the new facility.

This wasn't the first disagreement between the park and the Rosensteels. In 1999 the family sued the park for the return of the artifact collection, stating that the items were being kept in substandard conditions.

The park pointed out that the new facility would mean an improvement in collections storage over the 1920s Rosensteel building. The park and family settled the suit in 2000, with the park keeping the collection and admitting no fault, and agreeing that the three Rosensteel plaques would be "moved to the new Visitor Center and Museum."

The Rosensteel relics represent 84 percent of the park's artifact collection, which totals 106,859 items. The entire park collection, including 700,000 documents and other archival objects, numbers more than 1 million items.

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