This oral history is the product of three interview sessions conducted with George B. Hartzog, Jr., seventh director of the National Park Service, at his home in McLean, Virginia, in 2005. This oral history provides but a small glimpse of Hartzog’s Southern charm, warmth, and candor—and his great gift as a storyteller. He remains a commanding and inspirational figure. As no doubt with every task he has taken on, Hartzog approached this project with his characteristic enthusiasm—and some degree of humility. He insisted that the oral history focus on the Service’s accomplishments, rather than on his own, and was particularly intent that current and future Service employees benefit from his interview. Though George Hartzog retired from the Park Service decades ago, his passion for the parks and for the National Park Service remains evident. I have heard no one speak more eloquently or forcefully about the importance of national parks to our nation and the role of national parks in defining us as a people.
William C. Everhart graciously agreed to join us for the first and last interview sessions. The close friendship and mutual respect between the two interviewees were readily apparent. Everhart started his distinguished career with the National Park Service as a historian at Gettysburg National Military Park in 1951. His friendship and professional partnership with Hartzog began soon after Hartzog became superintendent at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. As the result of a search for the best candidate to plan and develop the memorial’s museum, he invited Everhart to join him in St. Louis. When Hartzog became director of the Service, he selected Everhart as assistant director for interpretation, and Everhart played a key role in the Hartzog administration. Later Everhart served Directors Ronald H. Walker and Gary Everhardt as special assistant for policy before his retirement from the Service in 1977.
This oral history is not intended to serve as a detailed account of George Hartzog’s extraordinary career. For a more complete picture, one should look at Hartzog’s own published account, Battling for the National Parks, at a well written portrait in The New Yorker,1 and at several other oral history interviews conducted with him over the past few decades. Kathy Mengak produced a doctoral dissertation about Hartzog in 2002 as a Ph.D. candidate at Clemson University. I saw no need to duplicate the historical record already available to researchers. Rather, this interview attempts to focus on the Hartzog era as one of transition. Its goal is to add personal insight and depth to the historical record of what was a period of phenomenal expansion in the National Park System and significant change in the National Park Service. This oral history focuses on Hartzog’s career with the National Park Service, primarily on his tenure as director.
After the first interview session, Mr. Hartzog provided me with written comments to expand on some of the subjects we had covered. I have integrated short excerpts from his written statement into the transcript where appropriate and have in a few instances inserted additional detail. These additions are set in italic type. In addition, occasionally words or phrases are added in brackets for greater clarity.
In the course of the interview, Hartzog spoke eloquently and fervidly about why parks are important to the American people, how parks help define us a people and foster a common identity. Parks, he said, challenge us with the fundamental questions, “Why?” and “Who am I?” Throughout his career, the question “Why” remained critically important to Hartzog. It was not only a question he asked himself, but a question he encouraged others to ask. It is a question that remains relevant for us today. As a final note, spending time with Mr. Hartzog and his wife, Helen, was a rare treat—a privilege and a pleasure. I am deeply grateful for their warm hospitality and for the long chats about what was, by any measure, one of the most remarkable periods in Park Service history.
I am very grateful to Mary Ann Greenwood for carefully transcribing the original interview tapes and to Lise Sajewski for her great skill in editing the transcript. Tom DuRant at Harpers Ferry Center generously gave his time to locate many of the photographs. Kerry Skarda and her team at [B] Creative Group deserve much credit for their high quality design work. Finally, I am deeply grateful to Martin Perschler, acting manager of the NPS Park History program, for his expertise and diligence in seeing this oral history through to publication.
Janet A. McDonnell
National Park Service