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Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss brings star power to historic preservation; Wilderness battlefield controversy draws national attention
Date published: 3/19/2009
Best known for films such as "American Graffiti," "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," he waxed eloquent about the need for Americans to better understand their heritage--to know where they come from, and why. "I don't think there's an aspect of the war, militarily, strategically or otherwise, that doesn't fascinate me," Dreyfuss said. "I've re-created the Battle of Cedar Creek, marching in the First Virginia Infantry. And I'm a Unionist, so that was tough."
Having been involved in numerous documentaries, including "Lincoln" and the Smithsonian Institution's series "The Great Battles of the Civil War," he pitched an idea for a new one.
Dreyfuss said he'd like to make a TV documentary on the Civil War that depicts many battlefields just as they are today, consumed--or nibbled away at--by suburban sprawl and homogenous chain-store development.
"Visually, it would go from Foster's Freeze to Foster's Freeze, to Wal-Mart to Barnes & Noble, and show this is where Nathan Bedford Forrest did this and where Lee did that and where Grant did this. You'll hear it. You won't see it, because we eat our history.
"I think that would go a long way toward reminding us of how valuable it is that we do not eat--should not, ever--eat our history."
Libby O'Connell, chief historian at History, formerly The History Channel, stressed the economic benefits that heritage tourism brings to communities that save and care for historic sites. "I want to go on record here as saying the trust is not saying 'No development, everything has to stay the same.' We know that's not going to work," said O'Connell, who serves on CWPT's Board of Directors.
"What we're talking about here is smart development intelligent planning with community stakeholders, so that people can understand the long-term goal of serious preservationists is to make it work for all of us."
Culpeper County resident Zann Miner, president of the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, said the local group appreciates the trust's continued focus on the problems that large-scale commercial development pose for the historic site.