Friday, August 25, 2006

Small Tributes: how people connect with Antietam National Battlefield

One of the jobs of a Park Ranger is to make the Antietam Battlefield relevant to each visitor. Often the visitors are way ahead of us. We find evidence of the meaning the park has for people everyday in the little tributes that they leave behind.

For reasons that are, I'm sure, as varied as the people who leave them behind, we daily find at the park small reminders of how important the park is to our visitors. Early on, I found a valentine heart made of pebbles on Burnsides Bridge. Perhaps this was a tribute to the men of the Union Ninth Corps...or maybe between two sweethearts. The cool thing is that we'll never know.

These little tributes are always ephemeral and subject to the weather, curious children, or marauding crows and woodchucks.

Sometimes they are predictable and storebought like funerary wreaths and miniature flags. Sometimes they are fragile little pebble sculptures.

And sometimes they are the coins left atop the headstone of the last person interred at Antietam National Cemetery, an American destroyerman killed aboard the U.S.S. Cole, Patrick Howard Roy of nearby Keedysville. I'm assuming the coins are left by his high school buddies and the empty rifle shell perhaps by someone he used to go hunting with.

Antietam National Battlefield is a beautiful and evocative place that seems to naturally resonate with thoughtful people. Do come visit sometime. You just may leave something small, but important, behind.

1 comment:

Kate said...

Thank you for mentioning my son, Patrick Howard Roy. The coins left of the headstone of any military person have special meanings [ ]. Patrick never endorsed hunting and I suppose the shell may have been from the gun salute every October 12. His high school buddies indeed made an altar of his grave site for many years, thanks to John and all the staff at Antietam Cemetery. Often I would visit during the day and find a couple beer bottles or cigar. It was an honor to be part of their grieving process. We miss him so much.
Kate, Patrick's mother