We’ve been talking a great deal about the impact of commemorations tied to anniversaries. One question that’s been raised repeatedly is whether these commemorations make any difference, and what, if anything, is their lasting impact.
A good number of readers of this blog are old enough to have some memory, however vague, of the Civil War Centennial of 1861-1865. Sure, those folks (including me) were young then, in some cases children. Yet we all know that in some cases one’s interest in history is ignited in one’s childhood.
So … what are my memories of the Civil War Centennial? Admittedly, they are meager, and yet they are there. I visited Washington, DC, in 1966 and Gettysburg in 1967, when one could still find centennial-themed souvenirs. However, as for the years of the centennial itself, the major items (for me) were …
(1) three issues of National Geographic, one for April 1961, another for July 1963, and a third for April 1965, covering the war (and including a rather large map). I remember reading these articles repeatedly and closely, and I really wanted to visit Bender’s Gift Shop after I saw a photo of its store window in the July 1863 issue. There were also some really engaging maps in the July 1963 issue detailing the Vicksburg campaign and Gettysburg.
(2) American Heritage‘s Civil War volume, featuring the statue of General Warren at Gettysburg on the dust jacket. I have to admit that while I read Bruce Catton’s text, I found the illustrated sections and the maps far more engrossing.
(3) items bought at the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow, New York. I recall a pen with a saber for a clip. Time and again we would get off the train, turn right, walk by the Maryland exhibit, and make our way to the Illinois exhibit, complete with Walt Disney’s animated Abraham Lincoln. Here and there one would pick up other mentions of the Civil War, but meeting Mr. Lincoln was the best.
(4) toy soldiers, from a range of manufacturers, headed by Lido, Britains, and MPC Ring Hand (with the detachable equipment that never quite worked well). I did not get Marx plastic figures until later, although I did pick up a fairly complete collection of their Warriors of the World series.
(5) the usual Paris musket and a far more realistic-looking Remington toy revolver (we played Civil War in the back yard and nearby woods, as well as a roster of other conflicts).
Other than introducing me to the Civil War as a war, these items were useful primarily as a way to stir the imagination and curiosity. They served as fun items in themselves and as a gateway to further inquiry, although I’m sure someone could make more of it (why, no home front? no USCT? no burning of Atlanta playset?).
What about you?