Paw-Paw has a post talking about touring the battlefield at Vicksburg, and I was reminded of a driving trip I took in that area several years back. We were coming north from New Orleans, and decided to stop in and see the battlefield.
We drove into town, and not knowing the area, wandered around a bit to get our bearings on the city. Through bad luck or whatever, we didn’t see any big obvious signs pointing the way to the historic site, so we stopped at a gas station to get directions.
“Hi, can you tell me how to get to the battlefield?”
“You mean the mall?” (Fortunately I knew what he was referring to as we had at some point passing by a rather large, and noticeably closed down, “Battlefield Mall”.)
“No, I mean the battlefield. The place where the big historic battle happened.”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know where the battlefield is??? This is Vicksburg, right?”
“Yeah, but we don’t have a battlefield.”
“You… don’t… have…. Uh, okay. Thanks.” I got out of there.
In the next half hour or so, we drove around stopping at gas stations, or asking random passers-by, to find out where the battlefield was. Blank stares all around. Conversations frighteningly similar to the one at that first gas station. About half of the roughly ten people we asked thought we meant the Battlefield Mall, instead of the Battlefield Battlefield.
Finally, we stopped at another gas station, and upon establishing that the employee also did not know the answer to our query, simply bought a city map. My jaw just about hit the floor. Take a look:
See that big green area that basically wraps itself about two-thirds of the way around the entire city? That’s the battlefield. We were at the time right up in the beige area almost entirely surrounded by the green. The citizens of Vicksburg had no freaking clue where to find a famous historic battlefield that wrapped around the city. If we had just randomly struck out in any direction we had a 3 in 4 chance of hitting it, and nobody knew there was a battlefield there!
How can people be that clueless? How can SO MANY people be that ignorant of the place they’ve probably lived all their lives? It would be like standing in downtown Chicago and nobody knowing where Lake Michigan was, much less that it even existed.
When we headed out and approached the main entrance to the battlefield (which, ironically, was not too far from the Battlefield Mall), I noted that the signs pointing it out read “National Park” instead of specifying that it was a battlefield; but it still boggles the imagination that the random Joes-on-the-street of Vicksburg were so ignorant of their own immediate local history to know that the town’s own National Park was the scene of one of the most famous battles of the
If it had been one person, I would have laughed it off as somebody messing with me. But can it be possible that every person I stopped or asked had the exact same sense of humor, and the same uncannily convincing ability to fake utter cluelessness? No… no… that can’t be it. But the alternative is positively frightening.
I would file this one under the “Department of Our Failing Schools” (a la Kevin), but this goes deeper than that. This was a mass failure of the local culture.