News Flash: Civil War Artifact Vandalized

You have to wonder what is going on inside the minds of some people when it comes to vandalizing cultural resources.  The good folks at the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park have had their unfair share of trouble with this in recent months.  The story of those troubles is recorded here:

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2012/oct/08/cannon-crime-park-rangers-on-the-hunt-for-who/

Just in case a few of you might not be familiar with this huge National Park Service (NPS) facility, it straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky state line near Harrogate, Tennessee, and is dedicated to telling the story of the first people to settle the western territory of the United States south of the Ohio River in the late 1700s and very early 1800s.

I must confess that I have never studied the anthropology of graffiti and admit to being totally ignorant about the subject.  The National Park Service no doubt views all modern graffiti affixed to or engraved in federal property at any location as being a form of vandalism.  I am not prepared to totally argue against that point, but I do feel that the modern application of graffiti has a human side that may be worth considering.  Perhaps a person draws a heart, their initials, and the initials of their sweetheart on a historical cannon in hopes that they too, feeling faceless and nameless in a crowd of 314,000,000 people, might somehow fuse a small part of themselves with a historical object in hopes that it will not be painted over—that this engraving will remain there for hundreds of years—and that the two of them and the bond they cherish will somehow become a part of the remembered history that the cannon represents.  Part of me wants to designate that as some really odd and perverse measure of respect for American history, the objects it has produced, and the value of both to future generations. 

However, at the same time, I have to take into account the fact that 150 years from now no one—and I do mean no one—is going to remember who “GK + TS” were, precisely when the engraving was done, and how much they loved each other.  Furthermore, the odds are squarely against the notion that GK and TS will ever be notable historical personalities for reasons other than the ability to do impromptu engraving on a cannon barrel.  The sad truth of the matter is that most people are born—go to school—take a rather bland job—eat a lot of green beans—sleep a lot—sit on the toilet—grow old—die—and push up daisies.  When one considers their graffiti in this light, it does indeed become definable as senseless vandalism—although I am sure wanton destruction for its own sake was never in the mind of the engraver.

In the end we come down to Earth.  No one would like it if some dude or dudette decided to do an impromptu engraving in the side of their new Chevy or Mercedes.  Therefore, one can understand how the NPS would get similarly upset  with the same thing happening to their old cannon, which by the way, belongs to the American people as a whole.  That being the case, the Archaeology in Tennessee blog encourages its readers to avoid defacing the surfaces of historic properties, historic objects, and natural features in caves and on the ground surface.  You are most likely not going to be remembered historically for your defacements, and no one thinks the defacement is “really cool.”  If nothing else, think of the poor guy that has to repaint the cannon on Monday morning.  As a famous comedian once said, “Why do we sentence criminals to prison?  Why don’t we just sentence them to move to a new house?”  The same could be said for having to do maintenance painting.  Stop and have a heart—preferably an unengraved one.

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