Trials and Tribulations of the National Tower (12/17)


Col. Mitchell, the Gettysburg National Tower advisor stated the advantage of the tower is that it can be located in an unobtrusive spot and avoid the commercial atmosphere. From the tower the visitors can view the entire vista of the battlefield. Thomas Ottenstein, an estate promoter wished to build an observation tower in Gettysburg in 1970.

The style of the tower was to be hyperboloid in shape. The tower weighed 2,000,000 pounds with five miles of steel connected by 14,000 bolts. The tower was anchored into granite with 15,000 tons of concrete. It rises 393 feet to the top of its flag pole. The hyperbolic hourglass shape of the 94 foot base 33 feet at the waist and 70 feet at the top. It would be certified against lightening damage and computer analyzed for safety. The top floor was 307feet. There would be four floors and two elevators. The Gettysburg National Tower, the Ottenstein Tower, was to be 300 feet tall. There would be three observation decks. The visitors could get to the top by elevator or walk up the staircase. There are windows in the elevator so the visitors can look out on their way to the observation area. At the presentation level there is audio visual demonstrations take place and all sensation of height is lost due to the huge area to move around on to enjoy the view. After the presentation the visitors may go up to open decks above or go down to the enclosed exhibit area and graphics area. The cost of the tower would be $2.5 million

From the moment the tower plans were announced in 1970, controversy began. The objections came from the National Park Service, Adams County Historical Society, The Lincoln Fellowship, local citizens and the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission to mention a few. The objections were the tower would be adjacent to the National Cemetery and would detract from the beauty and serenity of the area. Others opposed the site that visitors could look down upon burials that were being conducted. G. Hertzog denounced the tower as an insult to a national shrine. Depending on whom the citizens believed, or rather listened to, the tower varied in height from 300-330 feet tall, all of which contributed to part of the alarm. H. Biesecker, who thought the tower was an asset to Gettysburg and the county as a whole held the taxes to be paid would help the local tax base. W. Troxell wondered why non-paying citizens living outside of the borough limits had the right to be concerned.

As the controversy swirled about the tower, Ottenstien applied for the building permit at the borough offices. The Gettysburg Council told the local citizens voicing their opinion against the proposed tower that Council is powerless to prevent the issuing of the building permit. Ottenstein applied to the FAA for application for a tall structure that might be a threat to air traffic and need lightening as a red light on top.

The controversy was so great that Ottenstein decided to change locations for the tower.

This was part one of the story.

Elsie Morey is chairman of the board of directors of the Cumberland Township Historical Society.