War as Pageant
Dozens of posters like the one below were displayed in Hagerstown, Md., in the summer of 1962 to advertise a historical pageant, “Hills of Glory,” and a “Grand Re-Enactment,” both commemorating the Battle of Antietam. A friend kindly gave me this survivor, which I had framed. This colorful momento of the Centennial has given me a lot to think about. Did the pageant accurately convey the horror of a day when 23,000 men became casualties, Sharpsburg was shot up and many residents lost their life’s work and saw thousands of wounded men carried into their homes and barns? Probably not. More likely it was an exercise in drums and trumpets, with that “Cast of thousands!” portraying glory and no gore, like turn-of-the-century Currier & Ives lithographs. Today there’s no way such an outdoor play (12 showings–12!) could compete for entertainment time and money against the Internet, digital and cable, all of which can be enjoyed in air-conditioned comfort. But even if the production didn’t fully explore all the battle’s ramifications, it would be interesting to see how such a pageant would be received during the 150th anniversary cycle. Then again, perhaps I’m just nostalgic for a time when families sat outside together under the stars on hot, muggy nights, engrossed in American history.
Originally published in the October 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.