Posted By Norman Gasbarro on October 16, 2013
A quick walking trip around center city Philadelphia at noon on Columbus Day exposed the economic effects of the on-going government shutdown.
In Philadelphia, the Mid-Atlantic Branch of the National Archives was closed – as were all branches of the Archives and its main operational centers in the Washington, D.C. area. In addition to the more than 200,000 federal employees who have been furloughed, those researchers who use the facilities of the Archives – for school projects, writing and publishing of information, etc. – were turned away by the ubiquitous signs posted at the entrances to all federal installations.
Union and Confederate Civil War records housed at Philadelphia were inaccessible – including records of military service of veterans from Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The special collections housed at Philadelphia include documents of the Provost Marshal’s office of the 14th Congressional District of Pennsylvania (which included Gratz and Harrisburg) as well as other Provost Marshal records from other Pennsylvania districts.
At the main offices of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., a volunteer project to get the Civil War Widow’s Pension Applications scanned and placed on line was stopped dead in its tracks. This project is a cooperative effort of the military records website Fold3 and the National Archives.
Any researchers who have sent payment for copies of military records and pension records can expect long delays as there are no staff members available to fulfill their requests.
Just up the street from the National Archives Mid-Atlantic Branch in Philadelphia is the Independence Hall Park where the Liberty Bell resides and where normally on a holiday, the park and streets surrounding it are filled with visitors. But all was quiet, except for a small line waiting to peer through a window to see the Liberty Bell. Foreign tourists appeared bewildered that the birthplace of American freedom was shuttered and gated. These tourists may only have one chance in their lifetime to visit Philadelphia where the Declaration and Constitution were born.
More of the ubiquitous signs indicating the shutdown were seen throughout the park.
Carriage operators, food concessionaires, tour guides, and others (private individuals, not government employees) who normally make their living from the visiting crowds were standing around waiting for the tourists who never came. The restaurants in the area were also empty. These businesses are suffering losses that cannot be made up – and the effects will surely trickle down to the families of the owners and employees who are forced to go without income.
Gates even blocked off park benches so that the few tourists who were in open areas of the park had no place to sit.
And the public rest room facilities were closed.
The visitor’s center was also closed.
In walking around Independence Hall, only a few guards could be seen in what is usually a busy attraction.
Even the web site of the National Park Service was shut down. A search for the Gettysburg National Battlefield produced another of the notices:
Because of the federal government shutdown, national parks are closed and the National Park Service website is not being maintained.
That Gettysburg National Battlefield was closed. Considering that this happened during the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, and only days before the actual anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, is not only unfortunate, but disgraceful. The museum at the visitor center is closed, as is the cyclorama. Although the Gettysburg National Cemetery appears to be open, it is minimally staffed. The planned commemorations for the Gettysburg Address anniversary may go on and the government may re-open prior to the actual date of the anniversary of the address, but the economic loss to Pennsylvanians, particularly those in Adams County who rely on public history and tourism, will surely be devastating. Just as important also will be the negative psychological effects on the descendants of the dead who are buried there – knowing that the perpetual care they came to expect from the promises made by Lincoln may be compromised by a severely reduced staff and a government shutdown that didn’t have to happen.