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By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - The U.S. federal government shutdown has forced the closure of monuments and tourist sites across the country, but it has brought some benefits to at least one private art museum.
Hundreds of tourists who because of the shutdown could not visit the popular Fort Sumter National Monument, where the first battle of the Civil War took place 152 years ago, have instead been flocking to see a photo exhibit at the Gibbes Museum of Art in nearby Charleston, South Carolina.
"Photography and the American Civil War," an exhibition of 200 original photographs made between 1861 and 1865, opened at the Gibbes shortly before the government closed on October 1.
"It is a silver lining," said Executive Director Angela Mack. "The Gibbes Museum has absolutely nothing to do with the federal government, but we've gotten calls from people asking, ‘Are you still open?'"
The museum, which has a staff of only 14, usually attracts 60 to 80 visitors a day but averaged about 200 since the shutdown. On Sunday, a free admission day, 900 people saw the exhibit, which runs through January 5.
Fort Sumter is just one of many museums, galleries and sites affected by the shutdown. The Statue of Liberty and 10 other monuments and national parks reopened over the weekend under deals with state governments.
The Charleston exhibit, which originated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, includes portraits of soldiers made for their wives and mothers back home, images of wounded soldiers, and photos of battlefields littered with dead soldiers.
Photographs of President Abraham Lincoln and of Fort Sumter's ruins in April 1861 shortly after the battle are also included in the show.
Show organizer Jeff Rosenheim, curator in charge of the Metropolitan Museum's department of photographs, said the medium of photography was only 20 years old when the Civil War began.
"It was searching for a great subject, and it really found one," he explained. "These wild guys ran around and tried to make (glass negative) pictures and then get them home before they got broken."
Rosenheim said about 1 million photographs were made during the Civil War.
"It became the very democratic medium," he said. "The likeness that the stevedore or the seamstress or the private could afford looked just like the senator and the leaders of industry."
Harvard Law School professor Gerald Frug said he had traveled from Boston to see the exhibit again after viewing it in New York, where it attracted more than 320,000 people during its five-month run.
"It's not the same show because we're in the South," said Frug, 74. "The war took place here. It's a story about this city, too. Now we're dying to see Fort Sumter."
More than 300,000 tourists visited Fort Sumter in each of the last two years during the nation's 150th anniversary commemoration of the Civil War, said Tim Stone, a superintendent with the National Park Service.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Lisa Von Ahn)