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Gettysburg Civil War chapel was a firestorm of controversy

FOR YORK DAILY RECORD / SUNDAY NEWS — BRETT BERWAGER


In the early morning of December 3, a fire of unknown origin destroyed a replica wooden CIvil War chapel in downtown Gettysburg, Pa. The intense blaze spread to adjacent buildings and caused significant damage to the Ragged Edge coffee shop, a renovated vacant house that dated from well before the Civil War, and a Rescue Mission apartment building that displaced six families just weeks before Christmas and killed a pet cat by some reports. Federal agents are investigating the fire’s source; some have speculated that the tragedy was a work of an arsonist.
The chapel was a relatively new addition to the downtown Gettysburg scene. Located on Chambersburg Street in downtown, it occupied a lot vacated when a previous building burned down several years ago. Started by Civil War living historian John Wega, who portrays a chaplain associated with the United States Christian Commission, the chapel began as a simple tent structure. Wega expanded it over time, constructing a wooden building with fencing and shrubbery, and a sign overhanging the sidewalk. He ran afoul of borough authorities earlier this year after replacing a canvas roof with a tin roof, and, according to city fathers, violating multiple civic codes. The authorities had ordered Wega to cease and desist from further usage, citing concerns over safety and the codes.
Earlier in the year, vandals had cowardly struck Mr. Wega’s chapel. Their identity has not yet been established, and it is unknown if they are somehow connected to the civic controversies or are merely the work of someone who wanted an easy target that is newsworthy. Some have speculated that the same criminal(s) returned to finish their earlier work. If arson is proven (and at the time of writing, no official cause has been published), torching a church is a Federal crime that brings very stiff penalties.
Chaplain Wega is planning to rebuild and is soliciting donations at a website, www,savethecivilwarchapel,com, sponsored by the Liberty Institute.
On another front, the families that lost their homes and the Ragged Edge owners and workers deserve our thoughts and prayers. So close to Christmas, the loss must be devastating, both emotionally and financially.