A theoretical conundrum: should the name of Jackson Shrine be changed?

From Hennessy,  something to ponder over the weekend:

As the park moves through its General Management Planning  process, a couple of people have suggested that we consider changing the name of Jackson Shrine–the farm office on the Chandler Plantation where Stonewall Jackson died on May 10, 1863. The question arises from the simple fact that most people driving along I-95 who see the sign, “Stonewall Jackson Shrine,” have no idea what it we’re talking about.  A grotto in a garden?  A statue?  Is it really a shrine?   Some have suggested something more literal and descriptive–something more useful.  That raises a whole new question.  If it were to be renamed, what should it be called? Fairfield–The House where Jackson Died? (Though what survives is a farm office, not a house.)  The Last Days of Jackson Historic Site?

The name Stonewall Jackson Shrine dates to the early 1900s, when the land was owned by the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad.  The RR removed all other surviving structures from Chandler’s Fairfield Plantation (including the Big House–on the left in the photo below; the farm office is the building nearest the camera), but retained the farm office where Jackson died and, in an era of intense affection for Jackson and the Confederacy, called it the Stonewall Jackson Shrine.  The site passed to the NPS in the 1930s; as far as I know, there has never been serious thought given to changing the name.

So, what say you?  Change it or abide tradition and leave it?  If you were inclined to change it, what would you call it?

Would the public welcome something that makes more clear what the site actually is as you zoom by on I-95, or would the public rebel at a change to the site’s traditional name?

Bear in mind that by some measures, the Jackson Shrine is our most popular site.  A survey a few years back revealed that while more visitors go to Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Chatham, visitors to the Jackson Shrine spent about 50% more time there compared to other sites around the park.  This is surely due to the excellent, often one-on-one interpretation they get from the staff there.  It can be a powerful place.



33 thoughts on “A theoretical conundrum: should the name of Jackson Shrine be changed?

  1. Stonewall Jackson Memorial.

    I too was puzzled by the name Stonewall Jackson Shrine. However, that puzzlement caused me to go online to see what it was, and then I went to visit it, a memorable visit for the very reason cited – the one-on-one interpretation.

  2. It’s interesting that this question has been raised. The label “Jackson Shrine” has to me, seemed an out of place title. Whereas most of those attraction signs are quite specific and to the point, this one is not. As Mr. Hennessy mentions its appearance on I-95, I will admit that the first time I passed that sign during my earliest days visiting battlefields, the site as it’s called did not really seem interesting. There was nothing on the signage to lead me to believe it to be the tremendous and significant site it is. I guess my comment is that if one didn’t know much about the site of Jackson’s death, they may drive right by as well. I like “Fairfield – The house Where jackson Died” myself. There is no doubt as to what is there.

    • Thanks, Glenn. But I wonder if changing the name to be more descriptive–and thus moving away from the “Shrine”–would be taken as an affront to history and memory by some?

  3. Well, I’m sure it will. Personally, I have a portrait of Jackson hanging over my fireplace, and yet I believe such a change may be for the overall good. Wouldn’t it increase visitation if the historical significance was more prevalent in its presentation? I believe that any changes the NPS makes to aid in preservation efforts and awareness of these places is a good one. Perhaps simply renaming the site “Jackson Shrine – The House Where Stonewall Jackson Died” may fit the bill?

  4. It will not be easy to find a single word to replace shrine. Almost every definition of shrine includes a religious reference. To me it elevates Jackson to some lesser religious figure.

    What word is appropriate? Memorial might be the nearest appropriate term.

    A string of words? “Jackson’s Death Site” Ultimately that is what happened there.

    Not sure either of those work best but I do think it will be something worth considering over the long haul.

    • Emmanuel: It has always struck me that Jackson died at the Jackson Shrine and Lee is buried at Lee Chapel. It says a great deal about what some Virginians think of these men….

      • The Alamo is called “The Shrine of Texas Liberty”, and Fort McHenry is designated as a “National Monument and Historic Shrine”, thus there is a tradition of secular “shrines” in this country. Perhaps we are too quick to assume that the general public does not understand what the sign implies when they pass it on Interstate 95? Considering that Guinea is a stop on the Virginia Civil War Trail System as well as a unit of the F&SNMP, is there evidence that its long standing name has been a detriment to visitation numbers? The historical record has dealt with the “Shrine” designation for a hundred years or better, so why reinvent the wheel? How specific does a name need to be?
        If visitors flock to presidential “monuments” and “memorials” without hand holding, is there really a need to coach them more for a site that’s name implies it is perhaps a place of veneration or worship of an individual?
        As for the “Lee Chapel”, well, it is a “chapel”, and was constructed for, and used as, a location to hold daily worship services, well within the parameters of the definition.

      • Points all well taken, John. We of course have no way of knowing how many people choose not to visit the place because of ambiguity in its name. Nor do we know how many come BECAUSE it is a shrine. That’s one reason why this debate will likely remain purely theoretical. But it is an interesting question. Thanks.

  5. I remember when it was the plain old “Jackson Shrine;” no mention of Stonewall. I understand that used to cause confusion with that other Jackson, the one who was President.

    I would vote for “Fairfield – The house Where Stonewall Jackson Died.”

  6. In a day when being politically correct seems to be the rule, I still do not see a need to change something that has been so named for such a long time…….it actually worries me. Apparently, folks are still visiting, so why change it?

  7. With all due respect to John Cummings, the “shrine” appellation is dated and reminiscent of the days of Lost Cause mythology. We see the embarrasing attention to Jackson in other old signs, such as the War Department signs along trenchllines at Fredericksburg, which make reference to “Jackson’s Corps,” but will not make any reference to Longstreet. Instead of mentioning Lee’s other corps commander, the trenches are labeled with Longstreet’s division commanders. If there is an opportunity to overcome that deliberately obtuse mindset, it is worth considering. David Langbart’s suggestion is a good one, but could perhaps be made shorter:

    Fairfield (or Chandler Plantation) – The House Where Jackson Died.

    • Valid, Erik, valid point. And, you know, some will have you believe the world revolves around Stonewall Jackson, and in popular culture his name carries a whole lot of weight, still. Longstreet pretty well fell from grace for a long, long time. So, do we now call for a “cultural cleansing” and reinterpret to the extent that we no longer present sites in the mindset of the generation from which these things sprang? How deep do we go?
      I suppose that the further removed we come as a society, from any of the elements presented, the more new generations will have to have things spelled out for them, lest they be confused or misattribute sentiment. As the Sesquicentennial approaches, the hard fact remains that, yes, everyone that was alive then is now dead, and in all, those that sprang from those ancestors (literally and figuratively), are dying off as well, in increasing numbers. The immediacy of the era is about gone. A vested interest by interpreters and the audience begins to fade away. With this the reality and burden becomes a matter of translation. As school systems continue to deemphasize the Civil War itself, particularly militarily, in the curriculum, the burden then lies within the NPS to figure out how this all has relevance to future generations. A dangerous precipice to be standing on.

  8. Just to build off what David Langbart said in terms of people being confused…I don’t think we’re really ever going to avoid that.

    Effort was made back in the early 20th century to distinguish the Eppes family’s residence, Appomattox, in City Point (now Hopewell), Virginia from Appomattox Court House. The house was renamed “Appomattox Manor” though there were no eighteenth or nineteenth century mentions of the house as anything other than “Appomattox.” Still, people come to the site and ask me “Where did Lee sign the surrender document?” Recently we (Petersburg National Battlefield) has gone through the effort to note on park maps and website that the property is “Appomattox Plantation.”

    Ultimately, the ranger may just have to direct people to The Hermitage (not a day trip for those who thought Andrew Jackson died there) or in my case I send people on to Appomattox Court House with fair warning it is about 2.5 hours west of Hopewell, Virginia and they close at 5PM.

    • Excellent points, Emmanuel. Similarly, we have “Chatham” and “Ellwood” here at FRSP. Both are sites of former plantations with surviving structures. The names mean little to those not well-versed in local or Civil War history. Recently, we replaced a sign on Route 20 in the Wilderness Battlefield that read simply “Ellwood” with one that now reads “Ellwood Manor – General Warren’s Headquarters.” Likewise, the signs on Routes 3 and 212 in Stafford County say “Chatham Manor.” Both sites were more accurately plantations, but that term suggests something more than what the sites are or represent today.

      Personally, I wonder if adding the name “Fairfield” will really make much difference to highlighting the importance of the site, or will it merely result in confusion.


      • Eric, when you and I worked as historians at the Shrine in the early ’90s visitation wasn’t huge, but, remote as it was, a steady stream of interested persons always found their way out there. As I recall, almost all of them already knew about Stonewall Jackson and wanted to see where he died. Very few ever came in wondering what the site was about. I would suspect that this hasn’t changed. IF the NPS could find the funds to change ALL the signs and ALL the literature/brochures I seriously doubt it would make a difference in visitation numbers. Let it remain as is.

  9. Again as a layman I had no idea what it was. After a ranger told me I visited the site but would not have other wise with limited time. Again you will never be correct with your decision but get comments like above use the knowledge of staff and make the decision.

    Any idea of cost to change?

  10. It has been proposed that the Stonewall Jackson Shrine be renamed. At this web site, it is stated that: “most people driving along I-95 who see the sign, ‘Stonewall Jackson Shrine,’ have no idea what it we’re talking about. A grotto in a garden? A statue? Is it really a shrine?” My response is that give this location any name, a descriptive name and we will still have the same ignorance (of people driving along I-95) about what this place is all about.

    In my opinion, this is not a good suggestion. It is a motive that has no value, no importance, no purpose and it will not make anything better. It will just be a surrender of majority consensus to a loud minority. We will all say the king has the most beautiful clothes ever to be worn, while in reality we know the king is butt naked.

    Change the name? Think of that, in all of the current DB(databases), on all the maps, etc they have the current name. This name is in many different languages, in many books and every other known format of media that we are using. Change the name and we have a very big disconnect. For example, we have a town in Virginia named Salem. It is the site of much action during the CW (Civil War). Then, sometime after the CW someone yells louder that changing the name from Salem to Marshall is a great idea. The new town name was not even voted on by the county locals. Since then, everyone reading original accounts of the CW and current writings of the CW have been and will continue to have a failure to link the two names to one place.

    This idea of changing the name, causes more disconnect and has no benefit. If it is currently confusing to have a lot of people who do not know what the Stonewall Jackson Shrine is all about, it will be more so when all the knowledgeable history buffs are just as confused about the place as the ignorant ones driving on I-95.

    • Gregg: In raising the cost of a name change, you bring up a very good, usually overlooked point. They can cost huge amounts of money to make happen. Thanks for the comment….

  11. GREAT POST. This is a difficult one as the nostalgic adult in me is hesitant of change and tends to go with tradition, BUT I also remember as a kid wondering what the heck is a “shrine”. Of course this site has become a favorite of mine over the years and I do see myself volunteering there in the future. I have thought long and hard on this one and to be honest, I think Jackson’s name has to remain in some capacity. The site means nothing if not for him. I also think that in reality, it wouldn’t really matter. Changing the name is not going to bring in crowds. Those who are simply curious will continue to stop. Those who know the history will continue to stop. Those who care about Jackson’s legacy will continue to stop. Frankly, I feel the same about the upcoming sesquentennial. Those who already care about Civil War history will continue to do so and those who don’t…won’t. Perhaps adding the word “Fairfield” to the front of the sign may signify a change, but for an isolated site that is so ingrained in the memory of CW buffs and enthusiasts, a total name change would likely cause more harm than good.

  12. I’m an Italian and I would that someone in this site have read “The Sepulchres”, a poem of Ugo Foscolo.
    His first verse so sounds:
    “To great exploits the strong hearts inflame
    the urns of the strong ones, oh Pindemonte,
    and holy and beautiful make to the passerby
    the land who hosts them”
    Stonewall Jackson was certainly an hero, even for the wrong cause, but this isn’t a reason for not honour him.
    The same Foscolo, at the end of this poem, remember another hero of the wrong cause, Hector of Troy, and so says:
    “And you’ll be honoured with tears, Hector,
    till will be holy and wept the blood
    shed for the homeland
    and till the sun will shine on human disasters”
    Civil War is over and we don’t have to fight it again, so it’s the time to remember even the fighters of the wrong side.
    I beg your pardon for my wrong English

  13. I personally am against renaming anything historic. Calling it the “Stonewall Jackson Shrine” allows for interpretation of the naming of the site as well as what originally happened there. I’m no right-winger, but changing names because you don’t like the “Lost Cause” association is pretty short-sighted and arrogant.

  14. As many times as I had to explain why it was called a shrine when I worked at this park, I would not support a name change. The name “Stonewall Jackson Shrine” is part of the history of this site. Those who first sought to preserve this site named it a shrine for a reason. Can we justify a name change to clarify its significance as the death site of Stonewall Jackson at the risk of losing the opportunity to explain the public how we preserve sites like this one?

  15. This is a very interesting discussion and one that has escaped to the greater blogosphere. One interesting suggestion on another site was that we change how we “advertise” the site and leave the name the same. How about if we changed the I-95 signs to “Stonewall Jackson Historic Site” and left the official title the same?

  16. The people that named the location were paying homage. That is easy enough to understand. I have volunteered at Manassas Battlefield and I wore a wool uniform in August and had to explain the name of “Bull Run” over and over. That never led to the need to rename the place. This is so superficial. However, as Russ tells it, lets have some fun. I recommend you name it “Stonewall’s Free Beer and Sandwiches”. I suspect that would pick up traffic.

  17. I wholeheartedly agree with Kati. “Shrine” is proper and not an outdated word (per Erik Nelson). While the NPS has the official right to change the name, I doubt it has the ethical right to do so.
    The only change to clarify the shrine would be to add “General”; but that would be minimal clarification.
    Would Catholics change “Shrine of the Immaculate Conception” so that all non-Catholics know what is is?

  18. Reading all of the above, I am more convinced than ever that “Shrine” should be dropped entirely. It is inappropriate for the NPS to maintain a shrine to anything, particularly a Confederate secular shrine. Is there an Abraham Lincoln “Shrine” in the NPS? I don’t think so. Seriously. Call it the Jackson Death Site.

  19. Like many others, I was also confused by the name “Stonewall Jackson Shrine.” But I became interested and decided to do a little research to see what the shrine actually entails. Although the name is a little misleading, I believe it is a part of the history of the site. After all, history is about personal interpretation; therefore, I think the title fits the site perfectly. It is up to people passing by to interpret the meaning of “Stonewall Jackson Shrine,” and if interested, to stop by for more information. Also, the people who named the sight intended the “Stonewall Jackson Shrine” to be called so for a reason. I think tampering with that would only destroy its historical significance. Although NPS has the right to change the title if desired, I feel altering the name would alter every other aspect of the “Stonewall Jackson Shrine.” I agree that a name implies what is to be found at the site, but the name is already chosen. Why change it? Why change history?

  20. For as long as I can remember and I’m sixty-eight years of age it’s been the Jackson Shrine can’t we all just leave some things be.

  21. Quite a discussion!

    I think the name should be changed to something more accurate. “Jackson Death Site” seems the most economical in terms of words. Maybe: “Guinea Station—Jackson Death Site” The cost is an issue—one hesitates to suggest anything that is going to cost the NPS more money.

  22. My vote is for “Stonewall Jackson Death Site.” But there is also a value in leaving it alone, because it opens the door for a discussion of the Lost Cause. If the name doesn’t change, take advantage of that by making sure that the site includes interpretation of the history of the “shrine” label . . . and thus of the Lost Cause.

  23. Why not call it what it is: Jackson Death Site.

    A shrine has religious connotations. This is not such a place but a place where a person, albeit a well known, died.

  24. I have enjoyed several visits to this site. There is no question for me that the word ‘shrine’ connotes reverence of sort not usually granted to humans and is therefore inappropriate usage for this site. Several others have suggested variations on the term ‘death site’ which causes me to squirm just as much. My suggestion is to begin billing the site as “Final Days of Jackson”.

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