Filmmaker Ken Burns, author David McCullough, and actors Sam Waterston and Matthew Broderick joined Medal of Honor recipient Paul Bucha in a 10-minute protest film that was played by Gettysburg preservationists this morning, as the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board opened hearings on whether the state should grant a license for a casino at the historic Civil War battlefield.
Hundreds of individuals and dozens of community groups waiting to speak were treated to the cinematic presentation by Susan Star Paddock, the chair of the grassroots group, No Casino Gettysburg.
"People wonder how a small-town nonprofit could persuade celebrities to appear free," she said. "These … individuals were simply asked. It is Gettysburg itself, and the reverence America feels for this hallowed ground that persuaded them to join our cause."
It is the second attempt for local developer David LeVan, whose initial venture was defeated by a coalition of activists in 2006. He wants to run his gambling resort at the site of the current Eisenhower Inn, a few hundred yards from Gettysburg National Military Park. (Which is misleading, since battlefield boundaries are drawn very narrowly, and generally don't include all the sites of encampments, field hospitals, and fighting.) The American Legion calls the idea "a national disgrace," and it is opposed by hundreds of historians, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and my pals at the Civil War Preservation Trust, who alerted me to the controversy.
Surely, even in these tough economic times, Pennsylvania will recognize that glitzy commercial development on the battlefield's borders can spoil the character of the town and the battleground which, in its carefully preserved condition, lures thousands of tourists to Gettysburg. Do the people of south central Pennsylvania want to kill the goose that lays golden eggs? For a few hundred busboy, waitress, and croupier jobs?
And though I'm sure that the soldiers who fought and died at Gettysburg knew their way around a deck of cards, I cannot imagine, after seeing their comrades slaughtered in the Wheat Field, or charging up Cemetery Ridge, that they'd want the neon and clang, and the legalized thievery of a casino, on the grounds on which they marched and fought and died that day.
Build it in Harrisburg. Or York.