At First, Antietam Was Her Summer Job. Now She’s Calling the Shots—and Making Big Changes.

Susan Path (NPS Picture)

For Susan Path, superintendent of Antietam Nationwide Battlefield, a summer season stint doing archaeology blossomed right into a profession juggling oversight of the three,000-acre park close to Sharpsburg, Md., the place her tasks vary from managing the bodily panorama and infrastructure to creating cultural sources and adjustments in interpretation. Previous to her appointment to Antietam in 2011, Path spent greater than a decade working in numerous points of the Nationwide Park Service, bringing coaching in anthropology, archaeology, and historical past particular to Antietam commemoration together with her. Right now the Antietam Customer Heart is within the midst of a bodily renovation and complete replace to its displays. Shows that present a bigger backdrop to the struggle will complement the acquainted descriptions of Antietam because the ferocious battle the place Federal troops turned again the primary Accomplice invasion of Union territory.

Path notes that the guests heart “is now a historic construction in its personal proper,” and updates are taking that under consideration. Interpretation of the epic September 17, 1862, battle—deemed the only bloodiest day in American historical past—can be being revisited. As well as, Path notes {that a} new path community is being developed that can make new connections on the battlefield, because of a beneficiant million-dollar reward from an nameless donor.

Are you a Civil Battle aficionado?

I’m not a navy historian and I’ll be the primary to confess that. That’s why I rely on the superb employees we now have, who’ve nice depth and information in that space and are superb public historians and interpreters. My pursuits have all the time been taking a look at cultural historical past and as supervisor to depart the battlefield higher than I discovered it. We’re within the midst of a renovation of the customer heart; it’s been 4-5 years since we accomplished the rehabilitation of Burnside Bridge; and we simply completed rehabilitating the within of the Commentary Tower on Bloody Lane, the place we now have the forged iron staircase, which is authentic to the Nineties.  It wanted plenty of work, and up on the highest we did some security upgrades as nicely. We put in a railing, and a greater stairway entrance onto the platform.

You handle a fantastic panorama that was the location of horrific carnage. Is {that a} paradox?

I really feel that each time I am going out on the battlefield. One of many elementary values we’ve recognized on the battlefield is a way of place, solemnity. One thing we worth and need to hold. That’s one thing we hear so much from guests: how lovely and nicely maintained it’s, the juxtaposition between that and what occurred that resulted in it being preserved.

You could have a Ph.D. in American Research. What was your focus?

Within the mid-Nineteen Nineties I began work on my Ph.D. in American research and my emphasis was materials tradition and particularly cultural landscapes. I’ve all the time been fascinated by historic landscapes and the historical past and the layering you see within the panorama—and honing in even additional on commemorative landscapes and memorialization of landscapes, which match very nicely with my job, my work on the battlefields. So, I did my dissertation on the historical past of the commemorative panorama at Antietam: taking a look at what occurred on the battlefield after the preventing stopped. I spent plenty of time researching the historical past of the battlefield. I got here again over to Antietam in 2011 [after an earlier stint as assistant superintendent at Antietam] and as we speak is my tenth anniversary. I’ve been at Antietam 10 years as we speak.

Drum Major Sebastian Mayer of the 1st New Jersey carried this drum during the battle. The instrument is just one artifact of the park’s vast collection. (Photo by Melissa A. Winn)
Drum Main Sebastian Mayer of the first New Jersey carried this drum throughout the battle. The instrument is only one artifact of the park’s huge assortment. (Picture by Melissa A. Winn)

You’re rehabilitating the customer heart. What’s the objective?

We would have liked all new HVAC, plumbing, electrical techniques. We’re bumping the entrance of the constructing out to make a bigger foyer space and we’re including a small wing within the again for workplaces and our employees. We’re additionally including accessibility enhancements, together with redesigning our entrance sidewalk and including an elevator that can go to all three ranges. We’re redoing all of our displays and interpretive displays. We’re actually excited in regards to the displays as a result of they take a look at a broadening of the story of Antietam and its bigger context: the start of the Civil Battle, what led as much as the Civil Battle, and going via and searching on the Emancipation Proclamation and the releasing of the enslaved on account of the struggle.

We’re additionally taking a look at reminiscence or the legacy of the battle, which after all we’d. Commemoration is my space; we’re taking a look at how the battlefield has been memorialized and commemorated over time as nicely. We’re additionally engaged on a brand new park movie, however it won’t be prepared when the guests heart opens again up. General, the customer heart expertise will likely be very a lot up to date. We don’t have an actual date for the opening at this level. It could be good if we may full it in time for the a hundred and sixtieth anniversary of the battle in September.

Mirror on the adjustments between if you began as Antietam’s superintendent and as we speak.

Over that point, we’ve seen a rise in guests. Lots of parks are seeing that. I feel our interpretive emphasis has modified over that point. One of many issues we’ve seen within the bigger world, over the previous a number of years, is simply how related the Civil Battle and its historical past stays for the general public, or ought to be. After we take a look at the controversies over the Accomplice battle flag, the controversies over Accomplice statuary, Civil Battle websites and historical past are entrance and heart as individuals appear to grasp that issues taking place as we speak have roots and are on the lookout for the genesis of them.

That gives alternatives for us as nicely to speak in regards to the context of those occasions in historical past. We undoubtedly have seen extra of a shift towards seeing the Civil Battle in a broader context. Once I first began in 1997, I attended a “Holding the Excessive Floor” convention work group in Nashville, Tenn., which was a turning level within the Park Service in interpretation of the Civil Battle. What we’ve seen over time are increasingly more efforts to do this throughout the system. Historical past is related. You need to perceive the place you come from to know the place you are actually. That’s one other factor I’ve seen throughout my tenure as a Civil Battle battlefield supervisor.

A pair of cannons at sunset on the Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Maryland. (Photo by Melissa A. Winn)
A pair of cannons at sundown on the Antietam Nationwide Battlefield close to Sharpsburg, Maryland. (Picture by Melissa A. Winn)

What led you to a profession within the Park Service?

I attended the College of Maryland and acquired intrigued with anthropology and found I actually loved archaeology, working outdoors, digging within the grime and discovering tangible items of the previous. That basically spoke to me, and doing the analysis for the historical past as nicely. After which I acquired a masters diploma in anthropology with an emphasis on historic archaeology on the School of William & Mary. I inadvertently got here within the park service. It began as a summer season job doing archaeological work on this space and at a number of of the parks on this area, together with Harpers Ferry, and the C&O Canal and Antietam. My first everlasting place was with the C&O Canal Nationwide Historic Park as a cultural useful resource supervisor. In 1997, I came visiting to Monocacy and Antietam Nationwide Battlefield and served as assistant superintendent at Antietam and the location supervisor at Monocacy Battlefield, which at the moment was actually simply getting going. There wasn’t a lot open there within the late ’90s. I labored at Monocacy from 1997 via 2011, and through that point Monocacy turned a separate park from Antietam administratively. I turned the primary superintendent there.

How is the park weathering Covid?

Like many parks, throughout the Covid interval we’ve seen a rise in what we’d name leisure customers, people who find themselves popping out for inexperienced house as a result of we now have a very nice path system within the park. When Covid was in full swing final 12 months, we noticed a big uptick in guests who have been coming to be outdoors and to stroll. In order that was good. It was a problem to get to speak to them in regards to the battle as a result of plenty of them didn’t know the place they have been and what it was about. So it was a possibility for us.

Describe the scope of the panorama administration and the vary of components on the battlefield.

We’ve got historic homes, historic barns, and a historic panorama, which is de facto our principal useful resource—the battlefield. We work to take care of that, and we work with native farmers who truly farm a big a part of the battlefield for us via agreements. We’ve been specializing in constructing a very good relationship with our native farmers and bringing in actually good farmers.

One other focus is taking a look at ecological resilience on the battlefield. We’ve got a historic panorama, however we even have alternatives to combine our pure useful resource administration and our cultural useful resource administration. Down on the south finish of the park, about 15 years in the past, the park began setting apart derelict farmland for native grasslands and developed these down on the Otto Farm. We’re seeking to increase our native grasslands within the park and performing some reforestation alongside Antietam Creek. We’ve got a planning effort underway now to develop a panorama administration plan. That is simply now for public overview and remark. We’re planning on having that performed early subsequent 12 months and can focus so much on the useful resource administration on the battlefield.

Over the previous few a long time, the park has expanded an amazing deal.

Since about 1990, the park has nearly doubled in measurement. Since I’ve been there, we’ve had a number of new properties come into the battlefield via the American Battlefield Belief. They’ve been an amazing accomplice working with us on land acquisition on the battlefield. That has been an enormous factor to have the ability to shield that a lot land, combine it in, and provides us the chance to increase our interpretation and customer entry. About three years in the past, we have been lucky to get a million-dollar reward, an nameless donation to work on our path system to rehabilitate and increase our path community. So we now have began that work.

It’s an excellent time to be doing that work as a result of the park has expanded an amazing deal. We added issues on an advert hoc foundation, and now we now have the chance to have a look at it as an entire system. Final summer season, we rehabilitated and expanded the West Woods Path and the Cornfield Path via a brand new property that American Battlefield Belief had acquired some time again, and guests have appreciated the chance to get into components of the park they hadn’t been in earlier than. So we rerouted sections of path and we’re going to place in new interpretation. For instance, on a part of the Cornfield Path—on what we name the Miller grasslands, which is one other principal space of preventing with plenty of casualties—there are two [Alexander] Gardner pictures taken on this space. We’re going to place waysides out displaying the Gardner pictures and present the situation the place every was taken.

As a part of this grant, we additionally produce digital path guides. We’re going to do this as nicely for all our trails. This can be a multi-year undertaking. It should take us awhile. There are nonetheless lands contained in the park boundary that haven’t been acquired by the NPS. Many of those have scenic easement on them, which supply a stage of safety. We purchase properties after they grow to be out there from prepared sellers.

Cannons and Dunker Church, Antietam National Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Maryland. (Photo by Melissa A. Winn)
Cannons and Dunker Church, Antietam Nationwide Battlefield, Sharpsburg, Maryland. (Picture by Melissa A. Winn)

What’s a problem going ahead in administration of Antietam?

Interpretation is an ongoing problem as we’re working with present occasions and becoming the items collectively. We work to take care of our sources in perpetuity so they might proceed to be in good situation. These are all issues which might be on the market and we’re participating with them. It’s thrilling in plenty of methods. I actually take pleasure in what I do. And I’m actually lucky to have an amazing group of individuals at Antietam who’re very engaged. You’ll be able to see that the park is nicely maintained. There’s plenty of pleasure in its look.

What’s your favourite place or monument on the battlefield?

My favourite place on the battlefield is the Closing Assault Path on the south finish of the battlefield, as it’s quiet and I take pleasure in strolling via the native grassland fields the park has established over the previous couple of a long time.


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