Manassas

This is what we so often find when searching for history—emptiness, quiet, acres of mowed grass. Battlefields where hundreds of men died on a single day become vast, pristine lawns, as lovely as a landscape by Constable or van Gogh, and historic birthplaces are so lovingly maintained that it’s hard to believe anyone ever lived there. Edith Wharton’s cellar becomes a gift shop. In the cemetery quiet of these places, all the clangor and hell of actual history—the smell of manure where horses were bedded, earth scorched from fire pits or cannonball explosions, the stench from bayonets ripping flesh—has been sanitized away. While preserving history, we remove it. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and I’d rather see a beautifully maintained battlefield than a Wal-Mart parking lot. But that is what we’re doing while visiting historic space. It’s Versailles without the hideously overdressed and clownish aristocrats, a Potemkin village without the rotting slums behind the facades.

—Rinker Buck, The Oregon Trail (2015), chap. 16, pp. 215-216
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