For decades, visitors to Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg Battlefield could carefully track the movement of Union and Confederate troops during the famous Civil War battle by studying the fascinating electronic map in the park’s Visitor Center. The map became a favorite with park guests but was removed four years ago when a new Visitor Center was built, much to the disappointment of many regular visitors. Now the National Park Service is auctioning the map, but so far no one wants it, probably because it’s coated with asbestos sealant.
According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the park service has placed the 12-ton plaster map in an online auction, discerning that it was time to get rid of it after dismantling it and storing it for four years. They thought perhaps some ardent fan of the map would purchase it, but there have been no bidders for the 29 foot by 29 foot piece of history, despite the fact that visitors regular complain about the fact that it’s no longer there.
The deterrent most likely has to do with the fact that the map would need to be restored and the new owner would have to get rid of the asbestos sealant covering, which could be quite costly for an object of that size. Not removing the asbestos could present health risks for the new owners.
US General Services Administration official Robert Kitsock said the map was in “very poor condition” and “may pose a potential risk to public health and safety if moved and reassembled, confirmed park spokesperson Katie Lawhon. Recent tests, she said, re-confirmed the presence of asbestos. The naturally-occurring mineral, used in thousands of building projects, can cause mesothelioma cancer when its fibers are inhaled.
Lawhon said the auction is being held “in deference to Gettysburg organizations that have expressed an interest in saving the map for their own private use or display.” But if no one places a bid by Sept. 14 – the bidding starts at just $5 – the map will most likely be destroyed. Described as “heavy, consisting of steel beams, a wood and plywood platform and the large raised surface made of plaster,” the platform is extremely cumbersome, Lawhon said, and would be difficult to move, even though it’s currently in four pieces.
Still, people like Jim Paddock, a member of the Gettysburg community, hopes someone can see past the asbestos coating and come forth, willing to spend the time and money it will take to restore the historic map.
“The electric map has its own history,” he said. “People in their 60s and 70s want to bring their children and grandchildren to see it. There is value in this map. Some people say there is nothing in the new visitors center that is as effective in describing the Gettysburg battle as this old map.