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In Pennsylvania tomorrow, visitors arriving at the Gettysburg National Military Park may experience the battlefield in a whole new way. The National Parks Service is opening a $103 million visitor's center where people can learn much more about the bloody battle and the Civil War.
From member station WITF in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Tim Lambert reports.
TIM LAMBERT: Each year some two million people visit the battlefield where more than 51,000 Union and Confederate troops were killed, wounded or captured in three days of fighting. When they stopped by the old museum, they were able to see uniforms, flags and weapons used in the battle.
But Park Superintendent John Latschar says it's time to move away from what he calls a curator's museum approach.
Mr. JOHN LATSCHAR (Superintendent, Gettysburg National Military Park): When it was first put together, the idea was just to get out as many artifacts as possible. But this is what we call in the parlance a storyline museum.
LAMBERT: Now the Park Service is ready to open the doors of a facility designed to look like a 19th century barn but filled with audio and video presentations.
Unidentified Man #1: One hundred and fifty Confederate cannon answered by nearly 100 Union guns. The thunder continues for two hours, then the assault begins.
LAMBERT: Themes and storylines that were rarely discussed before, like slavery and how the town of Gettysburg dealt with the battle's aftermath, come alive on film.
Unidentified Man #2: We appeal to the revolutionary struggle. If we do not exclude slavery from the territories, it will exclude us.
LAMBERT: There are also a dozen galleries designed to broad major themes, with one devoted to each day of the 1863 battle. In fact, some people are worried that the exhibits may be so effective that visitors will end up spending the bulk of their time in Gettysburg in the new museum.
Superintendent John Latschar says if that happens then all this work was for naught.
Mr. LATSCHAR: We're going to consider this museum to be a failure if it doesn't induce people to get out on the battlefield and put their feet in the place where all this actually happened.
LAMBERT: The story of the battle of Gettysburg has been told and retold, studied, scrutinized and debated practically from the moment the last shot was fired.
Unidentified Man #1: At the end of three days over 7,000 soldiers have died, another 44,000 are wounded or captured. On July 4th in a pouring rain, Lee orchestrates a skillful retreat from Gettysburg with Meade in cautious pursuit. The threat to Pennsylvania is over.
LAMBERT: Now, visitors will be able to draw their own conclusions about how the country's future hinged on the sacrifices made in places like the Wheatfield, Little Round Top and Cemetery Ridge.
For NPR News, I'm Tim Lambert in Harrisburg.
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