Where does the Sesqui go from here?

Posted on July 28, 2013 by


I was disappointed when I saw a few posts recently that suggest the Sesquicentennial is… more or less… done. I anticipated such projections in the wake of Gettysburg, but to make them so soon after Gettysburg is not a good idea. A vacuum in the wake of Gettysburg was inevitable.

I agree that nothing will compare to Gettysburg’s 150th… the number of people and the incredible number of programs, but, for Pete’s sakes… it’s Gettysburg! Even if they had been poor programs, masses of people were coming, period. There was never a doubt about that… rather, the question was… just how many people would be there. Of all of the large-scale Sesqui programs, I think this was the sixth that I’ve attended since things began in 2011. That, by the way (at least in my opinion), is key in getting a grip on the pulse of the Sesqui crowd, on what we might be able to expect in the next twenty-one months. I think, if you really want to make a projection, you have to be out there… in and among the tour groups and events, big and small. No matter how many photos I’ve taken, they simply haven’t captured the moment… at any one time. So, making a projection about upcoming events based on no attendance at any events at all is absolute guesswork.

I’ll tell you this much… based on what I’ve seen and experienced, first-hand, I anticipate numbers at Wilderness/Spotysylvania comparable to what we saw at Chancellorsville.

You saw that, right? My speculation based on what, exactly? “What I’ve seen and experiencedas one who has attended these events. One thing “observers from afar” don’t see is a repetition of faces. I’ve seen lots of familiar faces… don’t know their names… but lots of familiar faces from events I attended as early as 2011. Still, to be honest, there’s even more that my speculation is based upon. For example, in addition to some of the same people, I anticipate a different wave of people. How many followers of Grant will pop-up at these upcoming events in the East? What about those who seek more about the stories of the USCT (hello… Petersburg)? What about those who are simply more enthralled with the last year of the Confederacy? And, what about Appomattox? (I apologize to my “Western Theater” readers, but I’m an “Eastern Theater man”, first and foremost… if that isn’t obvious enough).

There are a lot of factors to consider. As a former museum development director who also supervised a marketing team, I think I can’t help but look at the next twenty-one months from the position of one who used to market history. No doubt, it too is a guessing game. You do your best to anticipate numbers based on previous programs, economic climate, historical timelines, and other things, in order to plan and prepare.

So, from this point, guessing about numbers is about like playing a football pool at work. What seems more intriguing to me is how these events… and, yes, there will still be events… will be marketed over the next twenty-one months. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a “build it and they will come” market… not unless you already carry-over heavily in popular American memory of the history. That’s right… a lot of this is already “built-in”. As I indicated above… Gettysburg dominates the American mind when it comes to Civil War memory. Other places factor-in at different levels… some being more popular than the others. Will, for example, Shenandoah Valley events, in 2014, be as significant as events in 2012… when Stonewall Jackson was a key part of the memory in those Sesqui events?

If we’re really to gain something of value in the numbers seen at these events, perhaps instead of speculating as to how many will or will not attend, maybe we should listen more carefully to how people “speak with their feet”. Maybe then we will have a better grasp on Civil War memory among those who go out to these events (emphasis is intentional, as “those who go/attend” can be somewhat of a control group. Just how many are “frequent Sesqui flyers” just isn’t clear).

As those who want to take something of value from the Sesqui, in the way of meaning in Civil War memory, sometimes it’s better to listen than to talk.