York Town Square

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After answer to question about the York Fair: ‘She sank in her chair’

I wrote an editorial titled “Don’t celebrate York’s surrender” for the York (Pa.) Daily Record on Nov. 25.
The editorial (see below) shows how history and journalism can squarely meet.
Also, I tried to keep in mind that students of history who practice journalism sometimes can come off as snooty… .

I tried hard not to give readers ammunition to think something like: “Here we have a couple of can’t-miss cultural tourism projects, and the Daily Record has to poke holes in them.”
I learned about the damaging power of condescension when fielding audience questions after a speech some years ago.
A woman living near the York Fairgrounds proudly raised her hand and informed me that she lived near the York Fairgrounds — now the York Expo Center — America’s oldest fair. I proceeded to tell her several reasons why it probably wasn’t the oldest fair, irrespective of what the marker near the property states.
The more I rambled — York was only the fifth county in Pennsylvania so surely someone had celebrated their summer harvests before us — the lower she sank in her chair.
My snootiness took something from that woman, and I’ve tried since to challenge myths in a kind manner.
You decide whether I registered on your snootiness meter in writing the following editorial:
Civil War recognition overdue:
For too long, York County’s Civil War past has been overlooked.
So, anything that pushes this past to the present deserves applause.
A new multi-county state and local tourism program, “Pennsylvania Civil War Trails: Prelude to Gettysburg,” kicked off in Wrightsville over the weekend with fireworks, guided tours and the burning of grills to represent the bridge that Union militia burned to stop the Confederate advance in June 1863.
The initiative also will cover highlights of Civil War events in York and Hanover.
State and local tourism folks are heavily behind Civil War Trails. There’s nothing wrong with that. This long-overdue initiative to boost local Civil War literacy and tourism would bring in dollars from travelers to cover whatever funds that the state invests.
But the presence of tourism officials should serve as a heads up to the historical community.
Some tourism promoters advocate ghost tours as attractions. This area has enough bonafide Civil War stories to promote tourism. It’s simply unnecessary to invent tales.
Further, Civil War Trails backers should avoid the temptation to celebrate York’s surrender to the Confederates. In promoting its Civil War heritage, the City of York recently has fallen into such boosterism.
Clearly, undefended York’s surrender to the Confederates in late June 1863 is a story to tell. It’s been pushed to the background for too long. That decision drew applause and protests at the time. And the controversy continues to this day.
But should it be celebrated?
That’s what could happen if the historical community does not weigh in strongly enough on tourism efforts.
Despite these caveats, initiatives to bring Civil War buffs to regional sites in addition to Gettysburg should generate dollars along the way.
Fill in the historical blanks:
The William C. Goodridge House and Underground Railroad Museum in York is another budding tourist attraction that needs informed historical grounding.
The museum will be located in the Goodridge House, the 1800s home of the former slave who became an entrepreneur.
Goodridge’s life has been well-studied, but the Underground Railroad part of the museum needs some work.
Owners of stations on the Underground Railroad did not place advertisements in local newspapers touting the availability of rooms.
The movement was cloaked in secrecy for obvious reasons.
York County had an active Underground Railroad network, but details about this operation are sketchy.
Officials planning the museums should avail themselves of expert help.
Otherwise, the museum will never gain a credible regional — or national — reputation.
And here’s a sampling of past York Fair posts:
Teddy Roosevelt at the York Fair: ‘I know York county farmers are prosperous. Their barns are bigger than their houses’.
This York Fair mural is fading from sight .
Good old days at the York Fair were at least old.
JFK received grand applause at York Fair visit.
Young curators produce York Fair exhibit: ‘A Fair of Our Own’.
All’s Fair blog gives all kinds of insight about York Fair.
Both Yanks, Rebs camped at old York Fairgrounds.