Spent some time yesterday in St. Augustine, FL, the oldest city in the nation. As I walked around Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, I glimpsed at where the larger crowds werethe hundreds of shops lining the side streets of St. Augustine, which dominated the historical buildings.
Now these weren't the "traditional" type shops you might find in Colonial Williamsburg or other historic sites. These shops sold chocolate, crafts, clothes (including that historic brand, Harley-Davidson), chili pepper products and outdoor banners featuring your favorite sports teams. And yet the crowds poured in and out of these stores like they sold rarities they had never seen.
I'm not a snob. I understand that retail sales is often one of the only ways to keep sites like these alive and accessible to the public. But when I think about St. Augustine, and places like Gettysburg, where the approach to the battlefield is loaded with fast food restaurants, tchotchke shops and convenience stores, I wonder if this is really the only way we can get people to spend some time exploring our nation's history. Is a visit to Gettysburg only palatable with the spoonful of sugar of a lunch at McDonald's or Hardee's?
Again, I know I should be happy that families are still traveling to these sites instead of heading straight to the beach or the outlet malls. But at the same time, I can't help but imagine that all of those who died during the Battle of Gettysburg did so for freedoms far beyond three t-shirts for $12.
Or maybe that is precisely what they fought for...