Gettysburg landmark falls in preservationists' victory

Tower is demolished as thousands watch

July 04, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The National Tower at Gettysburg, a looming landmark on this hallowed Civil War battlefield for more than a quarter of a century, crumpled and dropped in a three-second implosion yesterday.

With it went a symbol of commercial intrusion on a sacred landscape, Bruce Babbitt, the U.S. secretary of the interior, said in a speech before two cannons were fired and the crowd of thousands counted down from 10. Just after the crowd reached one, there was a loud boom, the tower's two-story observation deck shook, and the tower fell in.

"It was only going to go one way, and that was down," said Mark Loizeaux, president of Controlled Demolition Inc., of Phoenix, Md., which donated its services to demolish the 393-foot tower.

Park Service officials and preservationists began seeking removal of the tower, a privately owned tourist attraction, before it opened for business July 27, 1974. They won their battle last month when a federal judge ruled that the U.S. government could take over the property.

"One good point when it was built is it became a war cry for preservation," said Edwin Bearss, historian emeritus for the National Park Service. "I think it's a victory for preservation, and more important, I think it is a victory for all Americans. This is a national military park. From California to Maine, from Florida to Alaska, everyone has as much interest in the tower coming down as the city of Gettysburg."

Not everyone was delighted to see it fall.

"Our family really has mixed feelings. We come over at least eight times from spring to fall, about half the time we go up the tower. The children are disappointed," said Lisa de Salis of Fairfield, Pa.

She said she took her son Jonathan, 8, out of school to visit the tower one last time when she learned it was to be demolished.

The tower's displays and explanations, she said, helped her teach her children about the pivotal battle of the war.

The tower cast its shadow on Gettysburg National Cemetery, where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address commemorating Union Army soldiers killed from July 1 to July 3, 1863.

To many historians, the Union victory marked the beginning of the end of the war.

The open metalwork of the tower, designed by Baltimore engineer Joel H. Rosenblatt, contained more than 2 million pounds of galvanized steel.

A Pennsylvania company will salvage the scrap, valued at less than $30,000, a process that will take about a month.

Rosenblatt's design for the tower required the world's largest computer and largest crane to design and build at the time.

Park officials set up a 9,000-foot perimeter around the tower as a safety zone yesterday, and Loizeaux had vowed to stop the countdown if there were any interlopers. But there weren't any.

The Federal Aviation Agency set a restriction keeping airplanes and helicopters above a 1,200-foot ceiling and beyond a half-mile of the tower.

Babbitt had vowed that the tower would come down on his watch. Preservationists were delighted in February when President Clinton included money to buy it in the federal budget.

Plans for the battlefield include the demolition of the 1921 visitors center and the 1962 Cyclorama building, which sit at the center of what was the Union Army's line.

A new center is planned for a 45-acre tract outside town along Baltimore Pike (Route 97).

Before the tower fell, Jim Wego, a retired government worker from Washington who volunteers at the park three times a week, said, "I know there are mixed feelings about" the tower's demise.

"It will seem strange when it's gone. I think most people, even those who live in this area, always see it from everywhere, and it is a landmark."

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