EXCHANGE: Historic site overseer took indirect path to job
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The new superintendent of Springfield’s state historic sites didn’t take a direct path to historic preservation.
Armed with a degree in park resource management from Kansas State University, Troy Gilmore initially came to Springfield 25 years ago to work as the education director at the Henson Robinson Zoo.
It wasn’t until five years ago, after leaving a job at the Department of Natural Resources, that he returned to state government as an assistant site superintendent for the Springfield sites.
But, Gilmore said, through all of that time he’s always had an interest in history.
“For the past 22 years, I’ve volunteered with the 114th, the Civil War group that’s in Springfield,” he said. “On Tuesday nights we always do the flag lowering at the Lincoln Tomb. So I’ve always had a love and a passion for history.”
Gilmore said history goes beyond just being an interest and is “somewhat personal.” His great-great-grandfather fought with the 53rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry from Ottawa, Illinois. The unit ended up in Georgia with Gen. William Sherman.
“When I got a job and came out here, I started to get into living history,” he said. “I remembered some papers my grandfather had passed on to me.”
Those papers included his great-great-grandfather’s promotional records to first lieutenant and then to captain. They were signed in 1864 by then-Gov. Richard Yates and Secretary of State Ozias Hatch.
“Now those hang on my wall in the Old State Capitol,” Gilmore said. “This is the stuff that really excites me, to find out more about history and the stories of people involved in these kinds of things.”
When he worked as assistant site superintendent, Gilmore also did living history demonstrations to move history beyond a recitation of dates and facts.
“We had a program that was called ‘Meet a Boy in Blue’ where we talked about what a soldier wore, the equipment that they carried, the food that they ate, the sleeping conditions that they lived in,” he said.
Gilmore also did programs about Civil War medicine, trying to find a balance between describing the gory reality of a 19th century battlefield hospital while not completely offending his audiences. Gilmore said he was able to explain how some accidents of Civil War medicine actually helped improve medical science.
Although historic sites are obviously steeped in history, Gilmore said history isn’t the only part of being a superintendent.
“This job is much more than just the historical aspect,” he said. “There’s a lot of people management and that’s really what I love about this job, interacting with people, whether it’s the staff and the volunteers here or the guests who visit the sites from all over the world.”
As Springfield site superintendent, Gilmore is responsible for the Lincoln Tomb, the war memorials in Oak Ridge Cemetery, the Old State Capitol, the Vachel Lindsay Home, the Dana-Thomas House and the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office. Gilmore oversees a staff of 11 full-time workers, six part-time workers and about 300 volunteers.
During the years of the budget impasse, visiting hours were reduced at the sites which caused a drop in the number of visitors. Gilmore said regular hours have been restored and “with that, we have seen significant increases (in visitors) at all of our historic sites.”
Gilmore said the superintendent’s job comes down to three things: ensuring the preservation, protection, safety and security of the sites; managing the staff from full-timers to volunteers; and ensuring guests have a meaningful experience.
In dealing with guests, particularly international visitors, is learning how engrained Lincoln is to them, Gilmore said.
“One of the things we do here frequently is to provide international tours for folks,” he said. “Some languages don’t translate dates very well. However, if you say during the time Abraham Lincoln was alive, they know exactly when that was. He is one that actually marks time for a lot of cultures.”
Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, https://bit.ly/2Mo3HQY
Information from: The State Journal-Register, http://www.sj-r.com