Gettysburg, Ground Zero: Secular Sacred Spaces

Guests

Kenneth Foote, professor, University of Colorado at Boulder
Simon Stow, professor, The College of William and Mary

Many consider ground zero a sacred place — as well as the battlefield at Gettysburg, the Lincoln Memorial and the site of the Oklahoma City bombing, among many others. These places often have nothing to do with religion, so it can be difficult define which uses of the spaces are appropriate.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

This past weekend's rally at the same date and place as "I Have a Dream" and the ongoing controversy about the construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York raised new questions about a very old issue: How do we define hallowed ground? What's the appropriate way to memorialize the spot where four students died at Kent State or the site of the Oklahoma City bombing?

Arguments have raged in and around Civil War battlefields and at the scenes of floods and fires and assassinations. For the most part, these places have little or nothing to do with religion, but we borrow a phrase: sacred ground.

Which public area or place do you regard as sacred? What's near your town? Call and tell us your story: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation on our website, as well. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program: What's different about the latest effort to make progress in the Middle East? But first, the meaning and politics of sacred secular places.

We begin with Kenneth Foote, a professor of geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He joins us from the studios of member station KGNU. Nice to have you on the program today.

Professor KENNETH FOOTE (Geography, University of Colorado at Boulder): Thank you very much.

CONAN: And how do we define hallowed ground? You've come up with a set of definitions.

Prof. FOOTE: Yes. I think we do find sacred ground quite often in the United States. It arises for different reasons, but oftentimes has a very similar pattern, like we see emerge around Civil War battlefields, as you mentioned, and so on, where we have a relatively defined area that's been set aside for a specific memory or to honor particular individuals.

CONAN: Yet around Gettysburg, for example, there is a fairly defined area, and the Park Service keeps trying to, you know, acquire bits of land that they consider historically important to the battlefield site. But there's always been arguments about commercial development just outside, what's appropriate -what's appropriate behavior inside the battlefield.

Prof. FOOTE: Absolutely. I think it's particularly true that it's very hard sometimes to define the boundary around some of these events, and the debates can continue for years, sometimes even generations.

Very often, it's conflict over commercial uses. People feel that those are inappropriate. The more profane, the more commercial it is, the less likely it is for people to support its development close to one of these sites.

CONAN: Yeah. You think of even the idea of a gift shop at the Anne Frank house.

Prof. FOOTE: Exactly. And so often, it has to do with things like a McDonald's at Gettysburg or something like that, where people just think it's very inappropriate, given the memories that are associated with a site.

CONAN: Yet you come up with a situation like Ground Zero in New York. This is obviously in the middle of a busy, downtown area. Defining the space is going to be difficult, but there's going to be retail facilities inside those buildings. People are going to be working there. There's going to be an OTB parlor across the street. There's going to be a bar across the street. There's going to be a strip joint across the street.

Prof. FOOTE: Absolutely, and it's all so close. And it's hard, then, to set a boundary around this site. And there's so many other commercial uses for the property nearby that it's very difficult to come along and say that one use is inappropriate, and the other is.

CONAN: And how do we resolve the disputes? I mean, obviously, in some places like inside a battlefield, there's a clear owner, if you will, the Park Service. But other places, it's not so easy.

Prof. FOOTE: No. And I think it is partly the time. It's not unusual for some of these sites to lay dormant or to be debated for years and years, as I say, that some and that's exactly what we're seeing now in New York.

We have this site, and it's been - the meaning has been fought over now for almost 10 years. And so there is this kind of equivocal issue of how to interpret it. And it's played out in space by these debates about what's appropriate and what isn't appropriate.

So it may be that these will continue for some time before there are decisions made. There'll be lots of protests and resistance to some of the changes.

CONAN: And how is the dispute affected by the fact that at Ground Zero, for example, as at many battlefields, you're going to have bodies that were never recovered?

Prof. FOOTE: Absolutely. I think that that's a major factor here, as it is at some other sites, because there is that sense of loss, that it is more than just a place where people died. It also is the resting places for the remains.

And I think that makes a connection which is far harder to break. It's more difficult to distance the event from the site itself.

CONAN: You even get these kinds of controversies in diving wrecks at sea.

Prof. FOOTE: Absolutely.

CONAN: We saw it in the case of the Titanic. This, of course, is, well, a lot of people are really interested in it. A lot of people died there.

Prof. FOOTE: Yes. And there's been resistance to having people visit sites of wrecks, not just the Titanic, but others as well, because it is a burial place.

And, of course, perhaps the most important is the Arizona wreckage at Pearl Harbor, which is really a very, very, very sensitive site, and very little well, it's just not touched at all anymore. So it's considered to be a graveyard.

CONAN: There are other kinds of sites, natural disasters, for example. Are those hallowed ground, as well?

Prof. FOOTE: Very often. This sort of hallowed ground seems to arise in three kind of situations. One of these where it really is a sense of community loss -I'm thinking of sites, say, of the Johnstown flood in Pennsylvania, where there's really a sense of loss within the community.

And very often, then, there is this there'll be cases where not all of the victims are ever recovered. There'll be this sense that something needs to be done, both for the survivors, but also for the victims.

But in other cases, there's a similar sort of result occurs in cases like 9/11 that are associated with heroic or ethical issues, the war on terror or defending the United States, as well. So they can be quite important.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. We're talking with Kenneth Foote, a professor of geography at the University of Colorado. We're talking about secular sacred space. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Steve's on the line with us from Norman, Oklahoma.

STEVE (Caller): Hello. I just want to make a comment about putting that mosque next to the World Trade Center site. I live in Oklahoma, and obviously, that was a big event in everybody's lives. And it would be just the same as putting a Ryder truck rental right across the street from the new federal building. It's inappropriate, and I just don't think it should happen.

CONAN: Steve, you know it's not a mosque, and it's not across the street.

STEVE: Well, still, you know, it's close. You know...

CONAN: How close is too close? It's two blocks away, can't see it.

STEVE: Well, you need to have some I'm a firefighter for the city of Oklahoma City, and I just - stuff like that, symbolic stuff like that, it just really gets to the core of all of us.

CONAN: And I think you've gotten to something really important there, Steve, in the symbolism of it. And Kenneth Foote, I think he's really hit on something.

Prof. FOOTE: Mm-hmm. I think the symbolism is important, but then again, the center that's being planned there is not directly associated with the terrorists itself, so that it's a more difficult association to make.

CONAN: Just to remind listeners, the reason Steve mentioned he would be offended if there was a Ryder rental facility across the street from the site of the old Murrah building, it's where that, of course, the bomb was in a Ryder truck. So that's the importance of that. Steve, thanks very much for the call.

STEVE: Thank you.

CONAN: And it's interesting. The Murrah Building - we mentioned sites where bodies have not been recovered. That was a site - obviously, a terrible thing happened there. But all the bodies were recovered, and the establishment of a memorial there did not take very long.

Prof. FOOTE: No. I think that site in Oklahoma City was one of the fastest. That was only five years between the tragedy and the creation of a major national shrine, and I think that's quite unprecedented. In many cases, the debate takes much longer than that.

CONAN: Let's go next to Chris, and Chris is on the line from San Antonio.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi. I'm from - yes, I am from San Antonio, and we have our own little bit of what we call hallowed ground, that being the Alamo.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And...

CHRIS: It's yes, sir?

CONAN: Go ahead. I don't mean to interrupt.

CHRIS: I'm sorry, I missed what you said.

CONAN: I said go ahead. I didn't mean to interrupt.

CHRIS: Oh, okay. We had about, fewer than 200 fellows fighting for independence, including Davy Crockett, that held off several thousand Mexican troops under Santa Ana for about seven days so Sam Houston could get his troops together for the final battle of the independence of Texas.

CONAN: Yes, indeed. And there has been considerable controversy in San Antonio. Obviously, the Alamo pretty much by itself out there when the battle happened. There's been considerable development in San Antonio since.

CHRIS: Yes, sir. Part of the outer ramparts are on a sidewalk across the street. There's they did close off the median street that was right in front of the Alamo because they found an Indian burial ground underneath.

CONAN: And so that is - that's another interesting development. Chris, it's hard to imagine that ever changing, that the Alamo would ever be touched.

CHRIS: Well, it's actually, from the time of the battle, it's been repaired an awful, awful lot. They've restored what was probably the original walls, looked like. But at the time of the battle, it was pretty much a ruins.

CONAN: All right. Chris after the battle was over, the walls had been knocked down. Chris, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

CHRIS: Have a good day, fellas.

CONAN: And he raises a couple of interesting points, Kenneth Foote. For example, again, at Gettysburg and at many Civil War battlefields, the field itself is covered with memorials erected by the various regiments and divisions that fought there. Obviously, things have changed.

There's an effort now at Gettysburg to restore the battlefield. I don't think they're talking about removing the memorials, but to restore the battlefield to what it looked like in 1863.

Prof. FOOTE: Exactly. I also think the Alamo is one of the most fascinating cases, because it had gone through a lot of changes, from being largely well, it was a ruin at the time of the battle, but then it was largely overlooked.

It - the major changes occurred after the turn of the 20th century, and some of the major changes occurred 100 years beyond the battle itself.

So there's this gradual, very gradual and slow transformation of the meaning that occurs through time, and I think that's true, too, of Gettysburg.

There were shifts. It started with very partisan memorials in the 1870s and '80s, but largely - and they were put up by the Union forces. But gradually -and I think this is very striking, and it may reflect on the 9/11 Ground Zero, as well - is that Gettysburg became a point of reconciliation.

Starting in the late 1880s and into the 1890s, particularly with the memorial at the site of Pickett's Charge, the High Water Mark Memorial, Gettysburg became a place where the Union and the Confederate forces could come together and honor their achievements both for and against Union.

And that kind of culminated in the 1930s, with the Eternal Peace Light Memorial there, which again changed the meaning a third time.

CONAN: We're talking about places that you regard as sacred or hallowed ground. Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We'll get more into the political debates that often come up around sacred spaces in just a moment. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

There are sacred spaces that are deeply religious, places of worship, burial grounds. Then there are secular sacred spaces, sites of tragic violence, battlefields, Ground Zero, Dealey Plaza, and places that are remembered for remarkable accomplishments, the "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial, for example.

Which public area or place do you regard as sacred and why? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website, at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guest is Kenneth Foote, professor of geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder. And joining us now from member station WCVE in Richmond is Simon Stow, an associate professor in the Department of Government at the College of William and Mary. Nice to have you with us today.

Professor SIMON STOW (Associate Professor, Department of Government, College of William and Mary): Nice to be here.

CONAN: And going back to the Glenn Beck rally this weekend in the capital, part of the controversy was the place and the time of the event: at the Lincoln Memorial, which marks the death of a remarkable president but also a place remembered for the positive things that have happened there: "I Have a Dream."

Prof. STOW: That's right.

CONAN: And is you know, nobody has a monopoly on the Lincoln Memorial, except maybe President Lincoln. But it's a place where a lot of things have happened. The National Mall, people remember it perhaps for the inauguration of President Obama, for the Million Man March, for any number of anti-war demonstrations. It has been the site of so many public gatherings and so many meanings of sacred space.

Prof. STOW: I think that's absolutely right. I was speaking to a colleague of mine this morning, and he suggested that part of the issue is when we talk about sacred space, we tend to think it should have a unitary meaning.

But that's not the case, so not the case with the Lincoln Memorial, of course, which when opened was open to a segregated audience, and then Marian Anderson's famous performance in 1939 made it a site of contestation. Martin Luther King made it a site of contestation.

And again, I think this weekend, Glenn Beck, I hesitate to use him in the same sentence, made it a sign of contestation.

CONAN: Do you think in general that these places are places that bring us together, or are they places that, as you're suggesting in some examples, divide us?

Prof. STOW: Well, I think that one thing we should remember about democracy is democracy is about contention. We tend to have a belief that there should be some kind of consensus, and people who don't go along with the consensus are somehow deviant or other.

And I think that one of the things we do need to recognize is these spaces of contestation are exactly what democracy is about. And in the history of democracy, some of the sacred spaces have indeed been precisely valued because they were sites of contestation.

CONAN: Give us an example, if you would.

Prof. STOW: I mean, going back to the Greeks, obviously, the theater of Dionysus, which was the site of the great theatrical festivals from which we get the, you know, tragedies and comedies of Greek drama.

And these sites were sacred to the Greeks. They were ritualized with ceremonies that were civic, religious and military. But they provided the space in which these tragedies and comedies could provide searing critiques of the city, lampooning of city values.

"Lysistrata," the Aristophanes play, ends with a celebration of Sparta, who was Athens' enemy at the time. And I think the thing is it's the very sacredness of the space that makes it possible for this contestation to happen.

CONAN: Obviously maybe not on the same level of resonance as you're talking about, but Ford's Theater in Washington, where of course Lincoln was assassinated, well, it's still open. They play comedies there.

Prof. STOW: Right. I mean, I think that's a very good point. And you mentioned Dealey Plaza earlier. You know, if you look at the - I think the plaque on the wall of Dealey Plaza, there's some discussion as to whether or not, you know, Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunmen. There is a site of contestation even there.

CONAN: There was a singer arrested for indecent exposure in Dealey Plaza earlier this year. This was some kind of performance art, obviously its performance there meant to have a special meaning.

Prof. STOW: I think that's right. I'm not exactly familiar with that particular case. But I think that, you know, there's a certain kind of shock value from doing it in precisely that location. And that's again we don't have the right in democracy not to be offended.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Kevin(ph) in Jacksonville: I was a student at Virginia Tech when the tragic shootings occurred there in 2007. Since then, the university did not tear down the academic building, Norris Hall, where most of the shootings took place.

However, they created the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention in order to foster research, education and development of leadership opportunities to promote peace and prevent violence in the world.

From this tragedy, the university used this hallowed ground in order to hopefully prevent similar situations occurring in the future.

And then there was another controversy. You think of another tragedy that occurred in Kent State in 1970, four students shot dead by the National Guard there and an enormous controversy erupting years later when the site of that killing was meant to be paved over to become a parking lot.

Prof. STOW: I think that's, I think you're absolutely right. And one of the things that we see, I guess, in the Virginia Tech instance is this becomes a space for discussion. And that is what that is the crux of democracy.

CONAN: Kenneth Foote, I wanted to bring you back into the conversation and what you think of Simon Stow's point.

Prof. FOOTE: Yeah, I think some of the sites associated with events like the Virginia Tech murders, the mass murders, things that are associated with gangland violence or some of the ones that are the most difficult to commemorate, including events that are associated with terrorist attacks.

And so, some of these events have not been commemorated until quite recently because of the very negative connotations. So I think we're also beginning to see a bit of a shift in attitudes toward some events like mass murder, terrorism and so forth.

It would've been the case, maybe a generation ago, that those sites would have been largely ignored. The grieving would've been confined to the cemetery. The site itself would have been largely obliterated.

But I think there's been a shift more recently, certainly since Kent State, Jackson State, the Orangeburg Massacres in the late '60s and early '70s, where there's been an effort now or much more willingness to acknowledge these acts of violence, even when they're particularly heinous.

CONAN: It's interesting. You mentioned some of the gangland violence, obviously something regarded as very closely akin to terrorism at the time, something like the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Yet there are tours in New York that almost gleefully point out the bullet holes in a building where somebody was shot and killed.

Prof. FOOTE: Absolutely. But I think this is a gradual shift that's been occurring in the U.S. and attitudes toward violence and attitudes toward death and grieving that is a much more much more of a sense that these need to be acknowledged publicly and that some of the grieving that would have occurred in private previously is now out in the open.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in on the conversation. Let's go to Dustin(ph), Dustin with us from Little Rock.

DUSTIN (Caller): Hi there. I'm excited to be on. I love your program.

CONAN: Thank you.

DUSTIN: I wanted to call and tell everybody about where I live, one of the sacred grounds is the Little Rock Central High School, where it was integrated in the '50s. And it remains to this day to be a very big cultural center for Little Rock and Arkansas in general. And I just wanted to tell everybody there's a museum that has artifacts and all kinds of memorabilia from that day. So people should know about it.

CONAN: And is it it's not used as a school anymore.

DUSTIN: No, no, it's not used as a school. It's just a sacred site and museum and...

CONAN: And that's interesting, Simon Stow, again the transformation of these places from places of contention, and obviously Little Rock High School, hard to be more contentious than that at that place in time.

Prof. STOW: I think that's absolutely right. But I sort of worry sometimes that when we establish museums and the so forth that we're in a sense trying to close down, to impose a particular meaning on an event or on a sacred space.

And I think for example the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which of course was hugely controversial at the time of its erection, but over time has come to be seen as a sort of space of debate and discussion and reflection.

And now I believe there is a visitor's center being proposed, which I think again will seek to sort of close the discussion, and that I think is the problem for democracy, of sacred space.

CONAN: There is also, Kenneth Foote, the issue of exploitation. You think of Salem, Massachusetts, where of course the notorious witch trials occurred, and then the erection of a statue to "Bewitched" and of course the commercialization of the entire witchcraft industry. It's not taken too serious.

Prof. FOOTE: And there is a lot of objection to that, in many cases where it seems as though the development is really exploitative.

On the other hand, it's almost inevitable that these sorts of developments begin around the edges of these sites so that there is tourism and commercial development close by.

CONAN: Let's go next to Kathy(ph), Kathy with us from Voorhees in New Jersey.

KATHY (Caller): Hello. This is a good segue for us to talking about exploitation and ethics. I happened to purchase a house that was in bankruptcy that had been used for dog fighting, actually probably one of the largest dog fighting headquarters on the East Coast, even before Michael Vick exploded.

And took the house and decided to make it into a nonprofit for animals and call it New Jersey Aid for Animals. And mainly what we specialize in is pit bulls and animals that have been abused. I go to court and stand up for the pit bulls and act as their voice.

So our hallowed ground, you know, when we purchased it, we're still finding bones and skulls and everything searched and seized inside the home when I looked at it. And I would never think anything, anything at all of putting up a building back on the five acres where the dogs were chained up.

CONAN: Is there any evidence, any kind of exhibit to show what the previous purpose, usage was?

KATHY: No. But we have pictures, and we, like, you know, since it's a private, you know, sanctuary, we don't do tours or anything. But we, you know, we have pictures, and we have all the reports from the USDA that came in, the same people that came in and looked at Michael Vick and, you know, reports from Animal Cruelty and from the SPCA and dogfighting tapes and things like that. It was a whole, really, house of horrors. And so we really didn't think we could change the karma, but we did. And so the whole house, to us, to me, actually, is sacred ground and always will be.

CONAN: Kathy, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

KATHY: You're welcome.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Simon Stow, it's interesting you're with us from Richmond -we're here in Washington, D.C. And if you drive along the great plazas of your town or our town, there are, of course, equestrian statues erected to the great heroes of the Civil War, just different ones.

Prof. STOW: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. STOW: That's absolutely right. And - but one thing that perhaps we should remember - Professor Foote, I think, was talking about this earlier, these sites of reconciliation. We forget, perhaps, that these monuments were established and these movements toward reconciliation. There was a reconciliation, perhaps, between the North and the South, but not so much between blacks and whites. In fact, African-Americans were excluded from this reconciliation. So again, these should, I think, be sites of contestation.

CONAN: I wonder if - it's interesting if you visit Revolutionary War battlefields, there seems to be little acknowledgment that much of the force on the losing side of that was American.

Prof. STOW: Well - as an Englishman, obviously, this is a little sensitive for me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Sorry to bring that up for you.

Prof. STOW: We refer to it as the unpleasantness of 1776.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. STOW: But, yes, I obviously have visited so many those sites, but I wonder what that suggests?

CONAN: Here's an email from Ian(ph) in Philadelphia. I think the most sacred space in our country is right here in my own city of Philadelphia, where the heart of the nation was formed. To walk through the halls, rooms and grounds of Independence Mall are just beautiful, historical and truly inspiring. Perhaps -plus, you have the Liberty Bell right down the mall, as well, such a sacrosanct space that every American should come at least once. And indeed, that's a place where, again, aside from a few disgruntled English people and American Tories...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: ...some of the population of Canada, perhaps, that that would be a place, Kenneth Foote, that could be seen as a place that would bring all or, maybe most, Americans together?

Prof. FOOTE: Absolutely. That, I think, is a very important one.

CONAN: We're talking about the secular sacred spaces in our country and the politics that sometimes surround them. Our guests are Kenneth Foote, professor of geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Simon Stow, an associate professor of the Department of Government at the College of William and Mary. He's with us from Richmond. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see - we go to Beth(ph). And Beth is with us from Schenectady.

BETH (Caller): Oh, thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

BETH: I was going to mention I'm looking at an article about sacred Native American lands that have been taken to make strip mines. And they're the original folks who needed some place to go and to be reflective. And I find that in this country, that there is no place you can go to - in a nonreligious way. You have to pay to go to a park, whether it's state or local.

And I'm not just - I don't want to get into the mosque, but I'm tired of seeing churches springing up everywhere. And considering they're putting a giant building up at Ground Zero, nobody has right to say anything. But for most of us, we want someplace to go anywhere where you don't have to pay five, 10, 15 dollars. You can go swimming. You can reflect on what's going on in your life and what's happening to the environment. And that is the most important thing. It's not just - like I said, the mosque is a hot-button issue.

CONAN: Sure.

BETH: But churches, I...

CONAN: Heidi(ph), might I suggest one place that, well, I sort of regard as a sacred space and it's free, and those are all the museums of the Smithsonian Institution.

BETH: Well, I know, I've been there. I've been there. My mother has stuff that's in the Smithsonian, right. And I agree with you, but they're few and far between. Most museums charge now.

CONAN: I agree with you there. Thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

BETH: Yep.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Heidi(ph). What can we learn from Israel and the sacred spaces of the Holy Land, the three Abrahamic relationships all share sacred spaces on the same sites? The religions have to negotiate this. How do they do this? Kenneth Foote, one would say with great difficulty?

Prof. FOOTE: Absolutely. I've spent more time in Israel this summer. If we move outside of the United States, I think we can also see lots of contested sites where we get a layering of events and issues that date back thousands of years. I think that it makes many of the debates even more difficult, as it's true in Israel. But in many cases, they do revolve around some of the same issues about contesting the past. So I think there is a parallel, and we see there are tremendous debates underway in Israel over how to commemorate these events.

CONAN: And, Simon Stow, in your native country, in Britain, there's been a running controversy over access to some sacred spaces. You think, particularly, of Stonehenge.

Prof. STOW: Yes, that's right. Although, you know, it's interesting that the 7/7 attacks in London were not - haven't been marked in any particularly grand way. And so, it's sort of interesting to think about what why it is, in the United States, that we sort of need to mark them in this way.

CONAN: It's interesting, the attacks on the July the 7th in London, of course, on transit facilities, on a bus, I'm not sure how you could do that. There's no easy way to do that.

Prof. STOW: Right. That's exactly right. And of course, you know, London has had experiences of the blitz and, of course, during the, you know, attacks by the IRA. And it seems that one of the things that has sort - that's been a culture in the United Kingdom, has been the sense of, well, that you - we just keep going. It's one of the tributes I think that we pay is to sort of continue with our lives. And I think...

CONAN: Interesting that the cathedral at Cologne in Germany is left as a ruin, remembering the wreckage from the Allied bombing. There's nothing like that in London.

Prof. STOW: Not in London, in Coventry, I believe, that the cathedral was left in ruins for that reason.

CONAN: Yeah.

Prof. STOW: But one of the things I think London and New York have in common is they're very dynamic cities. Unlike Washington, D.C., which, of course, is littered with monuments. New York has not traditionally been a city of particularly notable monuments.

CONAN: A couple of emails we want to use to end with, this from Tim(ph): This topic should certainly offer the country insight and new sensitivity to the feelings of Native Americans for the loss of so much of their sacred ground in the many sites they continue trying to save.

And this from Garrett(ph): We build a memorial on the street corner where my mother, Sarah Williams(ph), was run over by a drunk driver. I leave flowers there and remember her every time I pass by. Though I don't own this land, I would be sad if it was developed.

And - well, that opens a new area, of course, private sacred spaces.

Kenneth Foote, Simon Stow, thank you both very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Prof. FOOTE: Thank you.

Prof. STOW: My pleasure.

CONAN: Kenneth Foote, professor of geography at the University of Colorado, and Simon Stow, an associate professor of the Department Of Government at the College of William and Mary.

Up next, another round of Middle East peace talks kicks off this week. What's different this time? NPR's Michele Kelemen will join us. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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