In a recent post, “Wacky Question of the Week,” I shared a few examples of the amazing questions park rangers receive on the job. The subject of those queries isn’t limited to the out-of-doors, and historical sites have their own collection of legendary inquiries.
Here are a few samples, along with a little commentary for clarification.
“Were any of the scenes from the movie Gettysburg filmed during the actual battle?” (That would have been a bit difficult, since Thomas Edison didn’t develop the motion picture camera until 1891, almost thirty years after the battle was fought.)
This next one has been asked so many times that it provided the title for a book. The question–and the title: How Come They Always Had the Battles in National Parks? (Boy, I bet the visitors in the picnic area and campground were seriously annoyed by all that shooting, yelling and other commotion!)
Once the dust has settled, the site of almost any battle is eventually commemorated with a monument. That term may conjure up a variety of pictures in your mind, from the 555-foot Washington Monument in our nation’s capital to a small chunk of granite, or something in between.
Perhaps no other event in our nation’s history can top the Civil War in terms of promoting the building of monuments. Erected after the end of the war, these memorials honor personnel from entire states, various military units and even individual soldiers. They come in all shapes and sizes, in styles ranging from the grandiose to the modest, and in numbers that occasionally make one marvel that there is any unused granite remaining in North America.
Lest you think I exaggerate, here are a couple of examples: Vicksburg National Military Park contains 1,330 historic monuments and markers, and Gettysburg has over 1,400 such items. They are certainly fitting reminders of the sacrifices of brave men and women, but the presence of all those monuments prompts some interesting questions to rangers. One of my favorites is “Did the soldiers hide behind the monuments during the battle to keep from getting shot?”
Other visitors duly note the fine condition of these memorials and wonder, “Where did they store the monuments during the battle so they wouldn’t be damaged?” (I hope at least one of the approaching armies was considerate enough to send word ahead and give the appropriate authorities time to move those monuments to a safe spot.)
Some of us have a hard time keeping historical events in their proper sequence, as confirmed by a story from Fort Point National Historic Site in California. Fort Point is one of those hidden gems that many people miss during a visit to San Francisco, but it has a fascinating history and spectacular views. Constructed between 1853 and 1861 to prevent entrance of a hostile fleet into San Francisco Bay, the brick fort is the only one of its kind on the west coast.
Fast forward to1933, when construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge. Some accounts say that initial plans for the bridge called for Fort Point to be demolished, but thankfully, the span was redesigned to allow for preservation of the historic fort. That decision also provided the opportunity for a question overheard at a ranger talk at Fort Point.
Perhaps the visitor asking this question missed some of the facts about the age of the fort, or assumed that the Golden Gate Bridge predated the Civil War. In either case, the question of the week during the ranger’s talk was, “Why did they build a fort underneath the Golden Gate Bridge?”
Unlike the chicken and the egg, the sequence of events for the fort and bridge is thoroughly documented, but I’m willing to bet that inquiry has come up more than once. I trust that in our current era rangers successfully bite their tongues and resist giving what would admittedly be a great reply: “It’s part of the Homeland Security system.”
Perhaps you’ve overheard a few “Monumental Mix-ups” during your travels. Feel free to share them in the comment box below!
Life – it’s an adventure…. Find something to smile about today!
This story is adapted from the books Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor and Misadventure from America’s National Parks and Hey Ranger 2, © Jim Burnett and Taylor Trade Publishing, used by permission.