Fixing a Fake National Monument

Fort Monroe, Virginia, looks across the lower Chesapeake Bay, over Hampton Roads harbor, deep into four centuries of America's past, and -- if America makes sensible post-Army use of it -- far into the coming centuries.

Most of this this J-shaped, flat, but strategically Gibraltar-like sand spit was designated a national historic landmark a half-century ago. The first captive Africans stopped there on the way to Jamestown in 1619. In 1861, self-emancipating Americans, escaping from enslavement there, set in motion events that pushed President Lincoln and American history itself.

Those self-emancipating Americans pushed the country toward its earliest attempts finally to live up to the principles in the Declaration of Independence. They pushed America toward belatedly completing its 1776 founding. That’s what makes Fort Monroe the site of the greatest moment in American history.

In September 2011, the Army left. Over the preceding six years, almost all Americans familiar with the situation had come to agree that post-Army Fort Monroe should become a self-sustaining, revenue-generating, taxpayer-minimally-burdening, innovatively structured Grand Public Place built on the foundation of a substantial national park.

This Grand Public Place must have as its foundation a substantial unit of the national park system -- not merely for the community’s financial enrichment, but for everybody’s historical, recreational and environmental enrichment.

By September 2011, however, politicians of both parties -- parties bankrolled by the real estate development industry -- had dithered irresponsibly for the six years. As Senator Mark Warner admitted in July 2010 with admirable candor but troubling enthusiasm, they saw Fort Monroe as the biggest real estate opportunity on the East Coast.

By late 2011 Virginia’s leaders had also learned, though, that an awakened public expected to see a Grand Public Place built upon a substantial national park. So the leaders went out and snookered President Obama into using the Antiquities Act to give them cover. They got him to designate as a national monument the parts of Fort Monroe that developers had never threatened anyway. And then, with astonishing complicity and even participation from many in the media, they used the Big Lie technique to portray, falsely, all of Fort Monroe as a national monument. Even the Washington Post was duped.

So despite what you read in the Newport News Daily Press -- which declared in 2005 that Fort Monroe should be donated to Hampton -- this national treasure, with its international significance in the history of liberty, remains as threatened as ever.

The map below, with the caption beneath it, illustrates the problem and shows the solution. My many friends in this effort and I do not ask for money. We do ask for the incalculable help of your voice in the struggle to save Fort Monroe.

Steven T. Corneliussen

In this adapted National Park Service map, the NPS used light green to indicate the two parts of the fake, bifurcated national monument at Fort Monroe.  If it’s true that Fort Monroe saw American history’s greatest moment, that bifurcation is self-evidently preposterous -- like marring Monticello with hillside development.  Red has been added to show the sense-of-place-defining bayfront space that needs to be added to transform the national monument from fake to real.