Why is it that preservationists always seem to feel required to go psychotically overboard in their preservations? Aside from that, why is it that the preservation instincts are triggered by certain names and not by others?
In a place called Locust Grove, Virginia those questions are being acted out right now. Wal-Mart is looking to build a new store in a location that is about a mile from the protected and preserved Wilderness Battlefield, an important Civil War memorial. The preservationists, for some reason, believe that this proposed location is too close to the battlefield and want to stop the Arkansas-based retailer from building. Mind you, there is already a bank and a strip mall in the same general area so what, exactly, are the preservationists trying to stop? Are they afraid of building near the site or are they merely afraid of this particular building?
As a man who grew up in south Texas and is rather more intimately attuned to an earlier break-away conflict, that of the Texas Revolution, the one thing that comes instantly to my mind is the Alamo. If there is any location that is more sacred to that state's history than this small mission in San Antonio you would be hard pressed to prove the point. The memorials at San Jacinto and Goliad are certainly close (San Jacinto was the location of ultimate victory and Goliad, like the Alamo, was a part of the battle cry that roused the Texans to that victory) but the Alamo is arguably the only battlefield from that war that has captured the imagination of the entire nation. It was, in many respects, a Texan reenactment of the famous battle of the 300 Spartans, with much the same results. It was, in short, a massacre of people who were fighting for their lives and their freedom waiting for reinforcements that would never come.
And where is that sacred shrine to be found? Almost downtown in one of the largest cities in the state. One of the largest cities in the country, in fact. If you were to vist Alamo Plaza today, you would find strip malls, banks, and retailers of various flavours sharing its streets. Not a mile away, but across a small park. Last time I was there, there were even tawdry little tourist traps in the same neighborhood.
Yet none of this has diminished the honor, the beauty, or the sacredness of the Alamo. I have taken people not from Texas, not versed in the meaning of that building to the Alamo and they instantly felt it's presence upon entering. Everything that is outside, everything that is not of its memory disappears when you step onto that hallowed ground.
I have a feeling that the preservationists in Virginia aren't really fighting to preserve a memory in this particular fight. They are fighting against a retailer they have decided they do not like. If it were otherwise, why are there already businesses in the location they are fighting? If they are truly concerned about the integrity of the Wilderness Battlefield then all I can say to them is one half of the battle cry from San Jacinto: "Remember the Alamo." You'll find that truly sacred sites are more difficult to diminish than you might believe.