National Park Service Founders: Freeman Tilden
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    Freeman Tilden

    Cultural Resources National Park Service

Born in Malden, Massachusetts, Freeman Tilden first began writing as a book reviewer for his father's newspaper. Later, he worked as a reporter for newspapers in Boston, New York, and Charleston. As a novelist and playwright, he traveled around the world. In the early 1940s, Freeman "tired" of writing fiction, and with the encouragement of Director Newton B. Drury, began to write about the national parks. The National Parks: What They Mean to You and Mewas published in 1951. Publisher Alfred Knopf called it ". . . the best book ever written" on the parks. Other works included, The State Parks, Following the Frontier, and The Fifth Essence.

image of a wagon at Washington Birthplace

See For Yourself

Freeman Tilden loved visiting national parks such as George Washington Birthplace's reconstructed historic home-museum or the rugged backcountry of Big Bend. He created a legacy that today can be found in 390 parks. These parks offer tours in the spirit of Tilden, along with resources available to the public to enhance knowledge.

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For Teachers

"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." -William Arthur Ward. Learn more in Meaningful Interpreation.

Image of Freeman Tilden

Inside Story

"there must be something else. These tangible elements did not comprise a principle; they merely revealed that somewhere else, if they could not find it, there was a soul of things- a Fifth Essence, pure, eternal, and inclusive." Freeman Tilden's Biographical Vignette

image of Freeman Tilden


Freeman Tilden was widely revered as a teacher, mentor, and philosopher. His seminal work, Interpreting Our Heritage, discussed six principles of interpretation and is recognized as required reading for anyone pursuing a career in the field.

image of a wayside exhibit


The National Park Service's Harper's Ferry Center creates the signs and brochures for parks. Freeman Tilden defined interpretation as: "...including illustrative media, rather than simply to communicate factual information." Wayside exhibits are an “illustrative media" that illuminate features on the landscape as "original objects" enjoyed "firsthand" by active visitors.

image of an evening park ranger program


During its relatively brief history, much effort has gone into defining the nature and function of park interpretation and guiding its progress. Even while the term "education" was still being applied to interpretation, those involved with it were taking pains to distinguish it from traditional academic instruction. "Our function lies rather in the inspirational enthusiasm..."

Image of historic photos from Gettysburg


The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center offers diverses interpretive media experiences ranging from game-like challenges to in-depth database-driven resources; from large-scale passive presentations to multi-user interactives and individual stations-there is something to engage individuals and groups, young and old, experts and the uninitiated.

image of historic item preservation


Much of what we see in park museums tell stories. Conservation of the important cultural resources of the National Park Service require expert and highly skilled specialists. At Harpers Ferry Center, conservators meticulously work to preserve and restore objects of social and cultural significance.