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As Long as We Remember...

April 27, 2006

Save This Hallowed Ground

Chris Cavey

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln gave one of the most somber, thoughtful and well remembered speeches in American history - The Gettysburg Address. There were 51,112 casualties in those three July 1863 days, dying and wounded from acts of patriotism.

Gettysburg is once again a battle ground; this time it's greed versus preservation of history.

The battle is slots!

In 1761 Samuel Gettys established a tavern in what is now Gettysburg. Since that time economic development has risen and fallen with the times. Surely the low point was directly after the three day battle in 1863 when the town was basically destroyed.

Townsfolk who hid in their basements - or fled the town - returned to find their buildings destroyed. What structures left standing were housing the wounded and dying. The crops planted for that year, and the orchards, were ruined, collateral damages of war. Thousands of corpses littered everywhere and - in those days - graves had to be dug by hand. Public health was a priority, not economic development.

Today the Department of the Interior lists Gettysburg as "one of the most visited parks in the National Park Service." Tourism is up 54% in the last 25 years. In 2004 alone nearly two million people visited. This is a testimony to the importance and popularity of this historic site, where a battle never intended happened by accident.

So, why slots?

The quick answer is greed. Slot emporiums make big money. Local and state governments make money from issuance of licenses and taxes. Revenue from alternative sources is a bonus that can be used for special projects; or to bolster projects without raising other taxes from additional governmental income. It's simple.

There is a place for slot emporiums and they can and should be tied to the economic development of a state or local jurisdiction. They should be planned to have no direct impact on the surrounding community or its infrastructure. They should have controlled and planned taxable revenue streams. They should not belittle, ruin or take away from our national heritage.

Slots are destination stops, not additional attractions to existing tourist areas. Travel to Atlantic City where the famous boardwalk is in need of remodeling, repair and restoration. The area surrounding it is a slum, filled with pawn shops, prostitutes and neglected buildings. Where was the economic benefit to the surrounding area after almost 30 years of casino gambling?

Few will venture out of the casinos in Gettysburg to view the beauty and heritage of the battlefield. Few will take their children to visit the historic buildings, or buy souvenirs from local merchants. Most will be bussed in for the day with their complimentary roll of quarters never viewing a monument, except from bus windows.

If slots come to Gettysburg, where will the next spot be? Perhaps Gov. Edward G. Rendell could suggest a nice sight near the Liberty Bell. Downtown Philadelphia could use a little more bus traffic, right?

Didn't the Founding Fathers take personal and financial gambles with their fortunes when they declared independence? The theme could be "Come to Philly, Gamble in the name of Liberty." How sad a commentary that advertisement would make for our moral and historical values should we stoop that low?

Gettysburg was a battle that symbolized the true need to unite a nation. Re-read the Gettysburg Address and think about these two sentences: "But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

The greed of economic development should never mix with the historical preservation of our nation. Many have died for the freedoms we enjoy. The right to tax and license, the right to own a casino and the right to be entertained in front of a slot machine were all defended by patriots.

We need to honor their sacrifice by keeping historical sights like The Gettysburg Battlefield and its surrounding area properly honored and preserved, not turned into a gaudy, revenue generating, giant slots emporium.

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