Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Gettysburg, Week 6 - Maintenance
This week saw a change in pace from the last two weeks in interpretation. This week had me in maintenance, where I was working behind the scenes to keep Gettysburg pristine for visitors. My first day of maintenance saw me working with the “fence crew,” a group of seasonal employees responsible for repairing and replacing sections of wooden fence across the park. It was hard work under a hot sun as we replaced long sections of post-rail fence on Benner’s Hill. Each post required me to dig a hole over two feet deep, then place each post into the hole, and fill it back up again. While it was rough working for hours only to see more yards of fence-line left to finish, I felt that I made a valuable contribution to the park.
The other responsibility this week was helping repair some of the monuments in the park. Monuments have been a part of Gettysburg battlefield since the battle was fought and veterans, patriotic societies, and states sought to memorialize the soldiers who fought here. These monuments range in size, shape, and construction, including bronze statues and granite tablets. Each one is unique and contributes valuable insight into the history of the battle and the units that fought there. Furthermore, these monuments often entail beautiful craftsmanship and are considered works of art on the battlefield.
I had the honor of working on the State of Vermont Monument and the 190th New York Monument. The State of Vermont Monument is one of the tallest monuments at Gettysburg; standing over fifty feet in the air, this granite pillar is capped with a huge bronze statue of Vermont General George Stannard. I found out that I would be applying wax to General Stannard’s statue…all the way at the top! I saddled up my courage and hopped into the basket of a construction lift, rising fifty feet into the air. It was a little disconcerting being in a tiny basket fifty feet above the ground. It did not help that there was a strong breeze shaking the basket, making it seem like I was riding a boat. Fortunately, I was in the capable hands of Seasonal Employee Lucas Harmon, who specialized in monument preservation and repair. He showed me a process known as “hot waxing,” whereby I would use a blowtorch to scorch the old wax off of the bronze statue, before applying new wax to the hot statue with a paint brush. This wax would help protect the bronze from decay and add a shine to the statue. So, for the whole day, I was working fifty feet in the air, in a swaying basket, juggling a hot blowtorch and a paint brush, working on a giant bronze statue of a Civil War general. I tried not to notice how high we were and together we managed to finish the statue in a single day. I do not know what I enjoyed more, seeing the finished product up close or checking it out with my feet back on the ground. Our work made such an impression with bystanders that we got our picture taken by the local newspaper; it made the front page of the Gettysburg Times, under “Stannard Gets a Bath.”
The next day I worked on the 90th New York Monument, a smaller memorial only twenty feet off the ground. I worked with Seasonal employee Tori Peterson to “point,” or replace mortar, in the lining between stones. This mortar was composed of sand and lime, and when applied correctly, helps secure the stones on the monument together. After mixing the mortar, Tory and I rose up in yet another basket to carefully apply the mortar into gaps between the granite blocks. It was an enjoyable process and several people walking by stopped to comment on what we doing and how it made a difference in appearance.
Overall, I had a great time learning more about how the park functions behind the scenes. Supervisors Randy Hill and Lucas Flickinger did a great job placing me in maintenance tasks around the park and everyone I worked with really took their craft seriously. At the end of the week, I took great pride in looking at the battlefield’s fences and monuments, knowing full well that I helped preserve them for future generations.