The Gettysburg LBGs Today
by Frederick W. Hawthorne
By the end of the Seventies, the guide force had stabilized at approximately sixty members, full-time and part-time, approximately half of whom were members of the Association. Periodic exams had been administered since the early Fifties designed solely to maintain the existing guide level. Little thought had been given by the various park personnel assigned as guide supervisors to do much in the way of expanding the force, content with working to maintain its size and improve its quality. Variations of the written exam dating back to Dr. Tilberg's era were given to prospective candidates with the added component of the oral exam after 1972.
The last year of the Seventies had witnessed a sustained period of slackened visitation marking the first real blow to business since the Second World War. Although in no way could the energy crises of 1974 and 1979 compare with the Depression of the Thirties and the early Forties' war restrictions, a noticeable drop in visitation led to long hours of sitting and waiting for visitors to request guide services. None could compare with the near legendary depression-era story of Ralph Woodward who once sat on a fence near the present-day West End Guide station for 17 consecutive days without getting a trip.
The uncharacteristically slow summer of 1979 saw LBG Mike McGough develop the "Battlefield Road Rally" as a means of passing the time. The "Rally" centered around several concepts: educationally to give the participant a stronger familiarity with the battlefield and surrounding area, to provide an evening of comraderie and friendship, and to bring park rangers and LBG's closer together. A typical "rally" called for teams of two to complete three distinct tour routes, answering a series of questions based on monuments, markers, plaques, buildings, etc. within a certain amount of time - usually two to two and a half hours. As teams completed the course their score would be tabulated based on their time, the number of questions correctly answered, and the number of penalty points garnered for such travesties as speeding. Prizes were awarded and a picnic dinner enjoyed by the participants and their guests. With the exception of a couple of years in the early 90's, "Rallies" were held each summer up to the present.
The gas-crises of '79 fortunately was short-lived and the next ten years would again witness the steady growth of guide-conducted tours over the field. Enough concern was exhibited however that a major point of discussion that summer was whether or not to raise guide fees from $8 per car / $15 per bus. That raise would take place in 1981.
The retirement of Supervisory Park Technician Nora Saum in the summer of 1980 left a large vacancy for the park to fill. Mrs. Saum had spent several years upgrading and further refining the quality of the existing guide force. The implementation and refinement of a formal oral exam was among her contributions. Earlier guides dating back to Tilberg's time had undergone a form of oral with groups of guides each giving a piece of a tour while being evaluated. Saum gradually refined the process so that it was more of a one-on-one experience. In honor of her efforts in this and other fields, as part of her retirement dinner Superintendent John Earnst awarded her a guide license of her own waiving the exam requirement. For nearly another decade, Nora was a prominent presence in the guideroom.
To replace Saum in the summer of 1981 the park hired John Andrews as Supervisor Park Ranger with the responsibility for supervising Visitor Center operations as well as ride herd over the guide force housed within. Andrews, a career employee of the National Park Service, was a graduate of Colorado State University and had joined the Service in 1974. Serving in a variety of capacities at Assateague Island National Seashore, Salem Maritime National Historic Site and Colonial National Historical Park, Gettysburg was his first "Civil War" Park but more importantly, nothing in his past experience could possibly have prepared him for what he encountered in the guides. Yet he admirably filled the position and put his stamp on the Gettysburg guide force to an extent perhaps only rivalled by W. C. Storrick.
One of Andrew's first actions was to administer another guide exam which was done in September of 1981. As a result of that exam fifteen new guides were licensed increasing the guide force by 12%. In conjunction with Assistant Guide Supervisor Todd Bolton, the two men set about not only to increase the size of the guide force to meet what they perceived to be an increasing demand, but to continue to work towards quality control. Andrews developed a sixteen hour guide training session to help acclimate prospective guides who had passed the test and were awaiting their oral exam.
Andrews was ideally suited for the position. Forthright in manner, with an outstanding sense of humor he was firm but fair in his dealings with his new charges and most responded to his management style positively. His term in office, tragically ended by his sudden death in the summer of 1996, marked the period of greatest sustained growth and expansion of the guide force since its inception.
This growth was also duplicated by the similar expansion of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides. From 1980 through 1997 three presidents, Walt Powell, Kathy Showvaker, and Fred Hawthorne would guide the organization to new heights. Most of the new guides licensed in the half dozen guide classes of the 80's and 90's quickly became members of the Association. This growth ultimately resulted in a revitalization of that organization's influence as well as size. Over the next ten years the ALBG established a regular newsletter, reorganized its committee structure, set up an executive council, and began a Continuing Education program designed to share expertise and research and to sharpen skills. From about 30 guide members in 1980 it grew to over 110 guide members representing almost 95% of the guide force by the mid-90's.
The Continuing Education program was inspired by Superintendent John Earnst who felt it to be the greatest need of the LBG's in the mid-1980's. Initially starting out as a series of battlefield talks and indoor programs it gradually evolved to included such topics as defensive driving and first aid. As a part of this in 1988, the Association sponsored the first of what became known as "Battlefield Stomps." These were designed to allow LBG's to gain a clearer picture of the context in which Gettysburg had to be interpreted by giving a fairly in-depth picture of other battles. The first of these, to Antietam, was followed in subsequent years by trips to Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, Petersburg, the retreat to Appomattox and a several week-long trip to various western battlefields. This annual event continues today embodied in the "Associate's Appreciation Day" trip held each August.
In order to help fund these programs a news source of income was required. A decision was made to publish educational pamphlets and books that were battle related and embodied research done by the members. By 1988, the ALBG had published and marketed its first book "Stories of Men and Monuments, As Told By Battlefield Guides," This quickly went through several printings and the proceeds began to be funnelled into developing a first-class reference library, duplicating the park archives and photographs, as well as funding the various Continuing Ed programs.
By 1987 as the organization continued to grow and expand its activities the process of incorporating as a non-profit corporation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began. An investigation also was initiated to achieve federal non-profit status. This latter was granted in 1991. Starting in 1988, the organization also began to accept a new category of member - the Associate. This classification was orginally designed for those individuals who did not hold a guide license but who worked closely with the guides. It quickly became very popular and simply through word-of-mouth, grew to over 150 members, many of whom were individuals who desired to become a guide.
The ALBG also became a more active voice during this period in park and preservation affairs. In the mid 80's LBG Phil Cole spearheaded an effort to block the proposed closing of Sickles Avenue through Devil's Den to vehicular traffic. In 1988 a battle was waged to force the park to place Ordnance Rifle #233 back in its proper position at the base of the Buford Monument in lieu of a plan to make it a museum exhibit. A letter writing campaign and a series of before and after photographs were utilized to make public officials aware of the poor condition of monuments such as the 66th Ohio. Knocked down by a tree in a storm the previous year, the park consistently ignored it for fifteen months. Not until the letter writing campaign was embarked upon did the park finally re-erect the monument in just 2 hours in August of 1988. In both of these efforts, LBGs came into direct conflict with Park authorities souring relations with several of the superintendents. Despite the rather poor state of relations the Association was nominated by the park in 1989 for the "Take Pride in America" award for its volunteer efforts. This nomination resulted in a second place win in the state of Pennsylvania.
In recent years other bitter battles have been waged to encourage the park the restore monuments damaged by storms and to generally maintain the park resources. Perhaps the most heated conflict came in a successful effort to blunt the emergence of the "memorial landscape" concept which deemphasized the importance of the park's mission to commemorate the battle in favor of diverting resources towards maintaining the field in its 1890's or "memorial" period condition.
Other efforts of the ALBG were not quite as successful. A long losing battle was fought in an attempt to prevent the park from implementing the "chronological tour route" in 1989 and the corresponding closing of the National Cemetery. The tour route fight was not so much in opposition to the concept but the fact that in doing so the park plan called for the one-waying of several key roads and reversing the direction of others. The net effect many felt, was to lesson the variety of tour options available to guides who, incidentally, had been doing chronological tours for many, many years. The ALBG position over the closing of the National Cemetery was less clear cut as some newer guides saw the benefit of maintaining the sanctity of the grounds by removing traffic. Older guides felt that losing the cemetery meant that many older visitors would not be able to see where Lincoln actually spoke. A subsequent ballot showed guides split precisely down the middle on this issue and the cemetery closed. Shortly thereafter, several guides proposed doing evening cemetery walks as a public service and as a means of maintaining an interpretive tie to the cemetery. Theses walks in the summer months have continue up through the present.
By the early 90's the various initiative begun to increase the income of the ALBG resulted in the ability to contribute to various causes. Among the first of these was the donation of $500.00 towards the erection of the "Company K" Monument in the southwest quadrant of the town square. The ALBG was the first organization to do so. Subsequent donations have been made toward the repair of key park monuments, to establish a fund to provide rewards for the arrest and conviction of vandals and to upgrade the park's reference collections. In order to increase the organization's philanthropic deeds and showcase the talents of a variety of its members, in the fall of 1991, the first of a series of scholarly battlefield seminars began, the proceeds of which were to be donated to the cause of battlefield preservation. The first twelve of these seminars resulted in more than $7,000 in donations to various preservation groups, most notably the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association. At the same time nearly forty guides, almost a third of those licensed, participated in making a variety of field presentations as a part of the seminars.
Throughout past fifteen years visitation continued to hold steady between 1.5 and 1.8 million annually. John Andrews and Todd Bolton began to keep strong statistical records to track the number of individuals desiring guides but unable to get one. This statistic, titled "turnaways" was to be used as the justification for increasing the guide force ultimately to a figure approaching its original size of 100. During the summer of 1987 the guide category of part time-weekend was resurrected to allow individuals to cover periods traditionally low in available guides and high in "turnaways" - Saturday, Sunday, holidays, and weekday afternoons during the summer.
Ken Burns series "The Civil War" on PBS brought a renewed interest in both the American Civil War and Gettysburg as reflected in increased visitation. Coupled with activities centered around the commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the battle, one noticeable result was in the number of individuals who wished to become guides. The 1987 exam had about 50 applicants actually take the test. Just two years later 83 took the exam. Of these, 57 were from Pennsylvania but in a reflection of the popularity of guiding, 26 of the applicants were from out-of-state. The highest grade on this '89 exam was 91 with the low being 35. The '91 exam saw nearly a hundred applicant assemble in the cafeteria of the Gettysburg Junior High School to take the written portion of the test while three years later the December, 1994 exam resulted in 211 applicants with almost 200 showing up to take the exam. Guiding's popularity was certainly growing as more and more wanted the privilege of a guide license.
The year 1990 marked a key event in the history of the Licensed Battlefield Guides, the 75th anniversary of the licensing of the original guides. To commemorate the event a year-long series of activities were planned under the leadership of past-president Kathy Showvaker and and LBG Larry Wallace. Four goals were set out early in the year for the celebration. First was to actually celebrate seventy-five years of service as licensed guides. The second goal was to honor all LBG's, and War Department / N.P.S. guide supervisors, past and present. Third was a strong desire to put a positive guide image before the local public to counteract some of the impressions still prevalent from earlier years of guiding. The last goal was to educate N.P.S. employees outside of the park as to exactly what the Gettysburg Licensed Guide Force was.
Showvaker and her committee designed and carried out a variety of activities throughout the year to help fulfil these goals. A series of six free evening talks were scheduled for the community as well as the working out the logistics of a 'complementary' mass tour of the battlefield for local folks. In this guides were stationed at each of the major tour sites around the field where they would talk with anyone who stopped by giving a brief description of what key events occurred there. A written guide history was also commissioned which resulted in this work.
One legacy of the Anniversary year that has been maintained until the present was the placing of flags in the Civil War section of the National Cemetery. Proposed and organized by veteran guide Roy Frampton, this has proven to be one of the more popular public services of the ALBG. On July 1, 1990, fifty LBG's and Associates gathered at 6:00 am to place over 3500 flags in position before the formal opening of the Visitor Center for the day. Each July 1 since then, early in the morning, a number of volunteers gather to place individual American flags on the graves of all Civil War dead in the Cemetery. These flags remain in place throughout the anniversary of the battle to honor the sacrifice made so long ago. Although few know of the ALBG's role in the flag placing, believing it to be normal park service policy, nonetheless it is a tradition that hopefully will be a long one.
Another tradition growing out of the anniversary was the incorporation into the summer family picnic of a roast chicken dinner for all who attend. This was done in recognition of the fact that one of the early guide picnics of our predecessors features a pig roast. Since none of the organizers knew much about pig roasts or felt it to be a big hit, chicken was substituted.
The climax of the anniversary celebration was "Anniversary Reunion Weekend" on September 28-30, 1990. Unfortunately the actual anniversary date in October also coincided with Dwight Eisenhower's 100th Anniversary which in most people's minds, took precedence over our group so it was decided to hold the anniversary weekend several weeks earlier. One key component of the weekend was to gather together many former guides who had given up their license. Fred Hawthorne and George Shealer had worked to compile a complete historical listing of everyone who had held a guide license since 1915 and Showvaker and her committee attempted to locate and contact all living guides. As a result several former guides were able to make it back to town for the actual commemoration. The weekend activities kicked off with a welcoming reception in the National Park Service Visitor Center. About 55 guides, former guides, and guests arrived at 7:00 pm for a private open house and viewing of the newly installed permanent park exhibit on Licensed Guides. Mr. Jim Roach, NPS Chief of Interpretation gave a short talk on the history of the Museum collection and a view of the vision of the park in future Museum renovations.
On Saturday, three events were scheduled, the first of which was a special bus tour led by park historian, Kathy Harrison. Its intent was to give the participants an insight into some of the problems then facing the field. Forty one people went on this tour making stops at such sites as the "Heth Tree," the Oak Ridge Tower, and a number of other locations on the field discussing a variety of topics ranging from monument preservation to woodland restoration.
Saturday afternoon the group convened in the banquet room of the Stonehenge Restaurant for an event entitled "Guiding Through the Last Seventy Five Years" Kathy Showvaker and Roy Frampton canvassed the community for all possible sources of photographs of guides and over 170 were shown to the gathered audience in the form of slides. Each one spurred on some conversation from the 'old-timers' in the audience. Honored guests at this event were the two oldest guides, Clarence Swinn Sr, Guide #11, originally licensed in 1925, and Ralph Butt, Guide #87, originally licensed in 1916. Both were recognized through presentations of various commemorative items.
The evening banquet, also held at the Stonehenge witnessed the formal retirement of Mr. Swinn. He arrived for the occasion in his old guide uniform and cap, an unusual sight as many in the audience had been licensed after the change from this uniform in 1976. Superintendent Jose Cisneros and Guide Supervisor Andrews presented Mr. Swinn with a plaque containing his old guide badge, first received back in 1925. Following dinner, Mr. Cisneros addressed the group on the uniqueness of our service and its contribution to the interpretation of the field. A highlight of the talk was the reading of a number of positive comments received by his office in just his tenure as park superintendent. The evening ended with LBG Ben Jones and his band "The Gettysburg Brassworks" playing a variety of songs.
The final event of Reunion Weekend took place with a memorial service held at the park's Amphitheater. LBG Linda Clark welcomed guests on the organ while a bouquet of 223 red and white carnations, one for each deceased LBG, graced the stage. About sixty folks were in attendance including the families of some former guides. Following greetings by Rev. (and LBG) Roy Frampton, another guide, Rev. Robert MacAskill delivered the opening prayer. A hymn, "Face-to-Face" was sung by the assembled congregation and LBG John O'Brien's group "The Appletones" sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Rev. (and LBG) Eugene McVicker delivered a stirring and appropriate message which served as a lead in to the actual reading of the names of all deceased guides.
Fourteen active guides, Louise Arnold-Friend, Jim Tate, Ed Guy, Deb Novotny, Bill Bowling, Robert Fidler, Suzanne Harbach, Betty Weaver, Fred Hawthorne, Larry Wallace, Terry Fox, George Shealer, George Glenn, and Kathy Showvaker took turns reading the name of each deceased guide and their years of service. In this anniversary year, the guide force had climbed to 96 members, sixty-three of whom held full time licenses, thirteen held part time while seventeen were weekend, part timers. Three LBG's were considered "Guide Emeritus" and did no guiding yet still held the license.
In the wake of the 75th Anniversary activities John Andrews' continued to seek an optimum level for the guide force. Each year the number of guides licensed exceeded the number retiring resulting in a net increase of the force to a point in the low 100's.
The production and screening of Ted Turner's "Gettysburg" led to a big boom in visitation and heightened interest in the field and consequently to the largest influx of new guides since the inception of the licensing process. The large group of applicants taking the exam given in December of 1994 resulted in the 29 highest scores being permitted to move on to the oral component. The first six months of '95 witnessed the licensing of twenty-eight new guides from this group, a 25% increase in the guide force in a very short time. That same year in the wake of "Gettysburg" inspired visitation, these new LBG's and their more experienced comrades conducted 17,000 car tours and over 5,300 bus and van tours. More than a quarter of a million visitors took advantage of guided tours that year. Although visitation is again returning to more normal levels the larger guide force will probably not fall back to earlier levels.
Today's guides continue to take on new projects and expand their individual and collective influence. From clearing brush on sections of the battlefield as forerunners of today's "Adopt-a-Position" program to regularly cleaning the Emmitsburg Road as part of the state's "Adopt-A-Highway" program the Association continues to play an active role in maintaining the condition park. The addition of the "Visiting Scholar's program" to bring quality, noted figures in the field of Civil War history to Gettysburg has been a benefit to the community at large as well as the ALBG. Guide donations in recent years have gone beyond our earlier efforts to such diverse causes as the "Longstreet Memorial Fund," "the Sach's Covered Bridge Restoration Fund," and the "Museum of the Confederacy's Flag Restoration Fund,"
The 90's are also marking yet another period of transformation for the ALBG. Clarence Swinn Sr, passed away at the age of 87 in May of 1991, the last guide who officially had permission to work out of the Lincoln Square. The death of Ralph Butt in 1995 severed our last living tie to those early, pre-Depression LBG's. Over 80% of the guides presently licensed were licensed under the leadership of the late John Andrews and thus since 1980. Few, if any of these, can remember Swinn or Butt's last tours in the early to mid 80's.
The 1996 Battlefield Guide force numbers 128 individuals, markedly different from our predecessors in education, profession, age, sex and experience. A higher percentage of younger guides populates today's force. More than seventy-five percent hold college degrees, forty of those being at the Master's level or above. Among the force are educators, law enforcement officers, retired government employees, salesmen, retired military personnel, ministers, CPA's, technicians, engineers, printers and plumbers, reporters and writers. An increasing number are noted Civil War scholars and author's of books and magazine articles. Some still have non-guiding careers and guide on the side. Some are retired and guide as a second career. Some have made this their only career. Many moved to Gettysburg from other areas specifically because they love the Civil War and wish to make a living telling people about it. More than ever before a profession once very native and local, contains a majority not native to the area and from a variety of different states, north and south as well as east and west. That will continue to be the trend. As park resources continue to tighten, control over guide scheduling and tour origin is reverting back into the hands of LBGs and the Association will begin to take an even greater role in this process. The individualism and independence of earlier guides will, of necessity, become less in evidence.
Yet in may ways the Licensed Battlefield Guide of the 1990's is not all that different from his or her predecessor seventy-five years ago. Concerns over quality are continuing ones and although the modern guide encounters a markedly easier written examination than those individuals tested earlier, the gruelling two-hour oral exam is one that is extremely difficult to prepare for and pass. It tests both knowledge and the ability to weave that knowledge into a coherent, informative, and enjoyable experience for the visitor. The importance of insuring that each guide-candidate possesses the ability to do this is paramount. The old guide slogan adopted back in 1915 "A good battlefield tour is the best advertisement" is no less valid today. Each guide's experience, each trip reflects on the entire LBG force.
In the November 12, 1891 issue of the National Tribune, Captain Frank Moran, formerly of the 73rd New York Infantry, commented on the Gettysburg guides: "...those Godless men will take you over the field with a spavined team, if you are both opulent and verdant enough to undergo the operation; and if your object is quantity rather than quality in the matter of battle history, you will have no just reason to kick, for they will tell you all they know about Gettysburg, and more too. To a veteran who can keep a straight face it is a grim sort of sport, despite the attendant extortion, to make the circuit of the field with one of these gory purveyors of history. Embarrassing experiences of the past, however, made them wary of veterans, and hence their first move will be the cautious inquiry 'if you were in the battle?' If you would enjoy the full flow of his genius the correct caper is to avoid this questions, affect a profound dumbness, and give yourself wholly up to his mercy. Having thus obtained room commensurate with his historical strength, he will seize his descriptive whip, and, warming to his work as the journey proceeds, he will leak misinformation at every pore, and flood you with a torrent of battle lore that compels his very mules to fold down their honest ears in pious mortification with their enforced part in the inequity. Quietly compare his frightful statements of regimental losses, as he points out the landmarks and monuments, with the official report of the War Department in your hands, and if you will foot up his figures, you will have an aggregate of human slaughter beside which Waterloo will dwindle to a lonesome skirmish. Happily...in recent years [much has been done in ] abating in large measure the shameless extortion as well as the oratorical outrages hitherto inflicted upon [visitors] by this litter of greedy war-liars, whose sole knowledge of 'a fearful battlefield charge' consists of the one they make upon the purses of their fleeced and sunburned passengers."
The concern of the War Department, the National Park Service, and the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides for the continued improvement of individual's knowledge of the entire period, as well as the battle, has largely succeeded in eliminating Captain Moran's "oratorical outrages." The guide of the nineties has a strong desire to investigate and learn more about the entire Civil War era. This preparation has led to a situation where the average guide is equally adept at giving a general tour to an typical family of parents and children, a tour geared to the interests of a class of kindergarten students on a field trip, or an in-depth tactical tour of one small phase of the great battle.
One thing that has not changed over the seventy-five years of Licensed Battlefield Guiding has been the devotion and concern each individual guide has towards Gettysburg and what happened here in the summer of 1863. The guide today, as undoubtedly did the guide of earlier days, conducts tours of the battlefield as a labor of love. Through broiling summer afternoons, violent rainstorms, bitter cold January mornings, dogs, fidgeting children, large vans and RV's, camera buffs, Civil War 'Buffs' and "Killer Angels" experts, the Licensed Battlefield Guide continues showing up day after day for the privilege of taking another family around this special place as has been done since the guns stopped firing, and as will be done as long as this place is an important part of our national experience.