Superintendent’s Corner

Dear Friends of Andersonville,

The second half of 2017 brought both successes and challenges to Andersonville National Historic Site. In September, the park and much of the southeastern U.S. was impacted by Hurricane Irma. Fortunately, no park staff were injured and the park sustained only minor damage, with downed trees and lots of debris. The park was without power for three days. In the national cemetery, a tree fell and inflicted damage on the historic cemetery wall. But park staff came together swiftly after the storm cleared to assess the damage, clear debris, and protect the irreplaceable objects in our museum collections from moisture damage. Unfortunately, the impacts from Hurricane Irma resulted in the cancellation of our annual National POW/MIA Recognition Day event, which would have taken place that same week.

Our November Night Museum event was very successful this year. About 200 people came to see the historic Civil War prison site at night and interact with living historians who offered a glimpse of what life might have been like at the prison during the winter of 1864. This year’s event coincided with Veterans Day and included the raising of the Avenue of Flags with the help of Robin’s Riders from Warner Robins, GA. Park staff also delivered a special Veterans Day program focused on some of the veterans buried in Andersonville National Cemetery. Night Museum guest speaker April Baldwin, Park Ranger at Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, presented a program on the lesser-known contributions of African Americans to Andersonville. Her program was so popular that the theater was filled to capacity and more. The museum public announcement system was used to allow visitors who couldn’t get into the theater to hear her program.

In December, the park partnered with Wreaths Across America, the Civil Air Patrol, Bennett Motor Express LLC, John Christner Trucking Inc., and hundreds of park supporters to bring a record 3,654 wreaths for placement in Andersonville National Cemetery. About 250 visitors gathered in the national cemetery to remember the military men and women who fought and died for their country and to help place wreaths on their graves in honor of their sacrifice.

Several projects to improve park grounds, facilities, and services were accomplished this summer and fall. All park monuments, the cemetery rostrum, and many headstones were cleaned. All ironwork gates and fencing were cleaned and repainted. Interns hired through the American Conservation Experience (ACE) program worked with maintenance staff to mow and remove brushy overgrowth from the prison site and other areas. Archeologists from the National Park Service’s Southeastern Archeological Center came to survey several proposed project sites and to work with park staff to re-establish locations for the prison site’s reconstructed shelters, which had been erased by Hurricane Irma. Park staff also developed a new Cemetery Walking Tour card to provide visitors who wish to explore the national cemetery on their own with interpretive information about the history of the cemetery and its monuments.

Winter also brings resident volunteers to the park. The park is fortunate to have a robust volunteer program, with very dedicated local volunteers, winter resident volunteers, and interns. Their support is vital to park operations; many park events and programs could not be done without their help. Recent and current local volunteers Wade Barr, Jodi Todd, and Jimmy Culpepper have contributed an amazing number of volunteer hours to the park. They are invaluable sources of institutional knowledge and assistance; some have more park-specific experience and knowledge than many employees. Recent and current interpretive, cemetery, and resource interns Michael Ramey, Tanner Christy, Natalie Thompson, and Katherine Williamson have done terrific work in entering cemetery data, organizing library files, assisting with collections management, and other projects in addition to providing visitor services and developing programs. Recent and current resident volunteers Doug and Diane Taylor, Jerry and Rosemary Higgs, and Patrick and Alma Wilson have provided wonderful, dependable support for the museum, special events, and other visitor services. Again, the park could not accomplish a fraction of what we do without the assistance and contributions of volunteers and interns.

The Victory From Within traveling POW exhibit has been on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida since this fall and will remain there until April. The exhibit has been extremely popular at that museum, which receives over 850,000 visitors each year. Anyone in the vicinity of Pensacola is encouraged to visit the National Naval Aviation Museum to see the traveling POW exhibit. At the National Prisoner of War Museum, several objects that have been on display since the museum opened have been sent to specialists and are undergoing conservation treatments that will help preserve these irreplaceable artifacts. Some of the photographs, oral histories, and other items from the museum collections will also be converted to a digital format so that they can be more easily accessed by researchers or even posted on the park’s website. The park intends to eventually create a “virtual exhibit” of POW artifacts that can be viewed from anywhere in the world. But with over 75,000 objects in our collection, that project presents substantial time, cost, and logistical challenges.

The park is eagerly awaiting our new Gravefinder kiosk, which should be delivered any day now. This new service, funded through the Friends of Andersonville, will help national cemetery visitors locate a gravesite easily and at any time.

The park is also excited about the upcoming 20-year anniversary of the National Prisoner of War Museum. The museum opened on April 9, 1998. To commemorate this milestone, the park will promote the anniversary throughout 2018 with a special commemorative passport stamp, temporary museum exhibits, a series of social media posts about the museum’s history and artifacts, and special programs. On Sunday, April 8, 2018, the park will conduct a special ceremony to recognize this anniversary. Tentative plans for the event include former POW guest speakers, performance by a local NJROTC drill team, a program presented by a SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) Specialist, performance by a local high school concert band, and possibly a display or even a fly-over of military aircraft. We invite you to join us for this special event to recognize the importance, history, and mission of the National Prisoner of War Museum. If you are a former POW and are interested in speaking at this event, please contact our Chief of Interpretation and Resource Management, Jody Mays, at 229-924-0343 extension 115.

As we look ahead to 2018 and the 20th anniversary of the National Prisoner of War Museum, we also look forward to continuing our invaluable partnership with the Friends of Andersonville. It is our privilege to partner with you to care for Camp Sumter historic prison site, Andersonville National Cemetery, and the National Prisoner of War Museum; and through these places, to provide visitors with a greater understanding of the experiences and sacrifices of American prisoners of war.

Charles Sellars