After an expensive renovation, the Gettysburg Cyclorama will be reopened for public viewing in its new custom-engineering theater within the new Gettysburg Visitors Center at Gettysburg National Military Park. I plan to see it in a couple of weeks, but don’t plan to fight the crowds this Saturday (I will be at Dutch Wonderland with my grandson instead).
Many of you may not be aware that this particular painting is one of four very similar Gettysburg Cyclorama paintings done by the same overall artist and his team of assistants. There are also other Civil War cycloramas that were created in the same time period, including one depicting the Battle of Atlanta.
Cycloramas were very popular attractions in the 19th century to give viewers a unique 360 degree look at famous historical events or of exotic far away city scapes. Of the hundreds that were produced, roughly thirty have survived into the 21st century and several are on public display in North America and Europe. The largest cyclorama in North America is in Canada and depicts Jerusalem during Christ’s crucifixion. Often fake terrain is added to the front of the painting to add a 3D effect.
French artist Paul Dominique Philippoteaux and his team created four versions of the massive Gettysburg painting for display in four different U.S. cities (Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn). The one that has been restored and is to be shown at the new Visitors Center is the one that used to be exhibited in the 19th century in Boston. It is the second one painted, with the Chicago one having been the original.
The Chicago painting was thought to have been lost, but was rediscovered in 1965. It was willed to Wake Forest University in 1996 and sold last year by the university to a group of North Carolina investors. The new owners are looking to resell the painting to someone who would properly restore and preserve the painting. The Philadelphia painting was destroyed and the Brooklyn one’s fate remains unknown. Perhaps, like the Chicago version, it lies in a warehouse somewhere decaying.
The Atlanta Cyclorama depicting the height of the Battle of Atlanta has been a popular attraction in Grant Park for decades. I have viewed it several times while in Atlanta on business. The museum is set within a park that preserves a section of the once elaborate and extensive earthworks that once ringed Atlanta during the Civil War. Also in the museum is the famous locomotive the Texas, which chased the General during the Great Locomotive Chase (also known as Andrews’ Raid). It was painted by the American Panorama Company in Milwaukee by a team led by Germans F.W. Heine and August Lohr and was first displayed in Detroit in the late 1880s.
Portions of another massive cyclorama depicting the Battle of Shiloh still exist. It was painted by another French artist, Theophile Poilpot and his team of 12 assistants. After being displayed in Chicago, it was transported to Washington, D.C. for its second (and final) display. It was cut up into smaller individual paintings and distributed. Luckily, old black-and-white photographs remain showing the entire painting. One full color chromolith was used as an advertising piece for the McCormick Reaper Company into the early 20th century.
Other period cycloramas depicted the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimac (aka the CSS Virginia), the Second Battle of Bull Run (which was exhibited in Washington, D.C.), the Great Chicago Fire and other historical events.