Hallowed ground

July 07, 2005

The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."

- The Gettysburg Address

LAST WEEKEND at Gettysburg, thousands of re-enactors and spectators gathered for the 142nd anniversary of the three-day battle that was a turning point in the Civil War .

But just hours after the Union Army again repelled Pickett's Charge and sent the South packing, a more modern Battle of Gettysburg quietly continued - with a coalition of gambling opponents staging a candlelight vigil at a local seminary.

No Casino Gettysburg is fighting a recent proposal to build a slot-machine barn - 3,000 machines, potentially expanding to 5,000 - about a mile from the national military park commemorating the battle in which more than 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, captured or missing.

Like the Union Army at Gettysburg, the anti-slots group's cause is right: Building a casino by this hallowed ground is an almost blasphemous idea. It should be rejected - if not by the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission, then by local zoning authorities.

We understand Gettysburg's commercial appeal for the casino's backers, led by a prominent resident who once ran Conrail. The town and military park annually draw about 2 million visitors in search of a deeper understanding of not only the great battle but also the divisions that led to that war and that still linger in the American fabric.

But, while this casino's developers doubtless count on Americans not forgetting Gettysburg - as Abraham Lincoln vowed in his famed address there - the very reasons for remembering seem to have been lost in their move to capitalize on slots.

Some have compared their proposal to Disney's rejected plan to plant an amusement park near another major Civil War battleground, Manassas in Virginia. But it also invokes the 307-foot-tall Gettysburg National Tower, an eyesore erected in the 1970s by entrepreneurs in search of tourists' cash and finally demolished by the federal government in 2000. The casino would not be directly visible from the military park, but it nonetheless would culturally invade today's battlefield experience.

Gettysburg has long been a place of remembering and of learning. Sure, it's inevitably come to host its share of tourist junk, but gambling goes far beyond that. That it's even being considered as a site - as part of Pennsylvania's outrageous plan to allow 61,000 machines at 14 locations - shows how the reach of gambling respects nothing but money. Marylanders who believe that this state could legalize slots - while protecting certain communities and treasured sites - need look no farther than just 55 miles from Baltimore, to today's Battle of Gettysburg, to see the folly of that.

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