The gigantic, 130-year-old cyclorama painting of the Civil War’s Battle of Atlanta will move shortly in dramatic, crane-dangling fashion from its longtime Grant Park home to Buckhead’s Atlanta History Center as soon as this week. Reporter Newspapers got sneak peeks of the painting wound on two 11,000-pound, 45-foot-tall spools in Grant Park, and of its new Buckhead home; see below for photos.
The 359-foot-long painting will be hauled through a hole in the Grant Park building’s roof and ride on flatbed trucks for a reverse crane operation inserting it into the History Center’s new Cyclorama Building. The two-day move is not open to the public, though it may be visible to passers-by, and kicks off about 18 months of restoration work before the painting goes back on display, likely in fall 2018.
An entertainment fad of the late 1800s, cycloramas were huge, circular paintings of dramatic scenes intended to give the viewer an immersive experience—“the virtual reality of its time,” said Gordon Jones, the History Center’s senior military historian and curator. The “Battle of Atlanta” cyclorama was first displayed in Minnesota in 1886 and toured various states before ending up in Atlanta.
The Grant Park Cyclorama building, custom-built to display the painting, opened in 1921. Over time, the painting’s popularity faded and the building aged, endangering the artwork. In 2014, Mayor Kasim Reed called for selling the building and relocating the painting to a new facility. The History Center, at 130 West Paces Ferry Road, won the prize with its $30 million new Cyclorama building that was kick-started by a $10 million gift from residents Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker.
The “Battle of Atlanta” will be restored, including replacing or re-creating large pieces hacked off by previous promoters years ago. It will be longer and higher—371 feet around and 49 feet high.
The old Grant Park Cyclorama building included a rotating platform that showed the audience various sections at different times. The new, larger History Center Cyclorama building—a huge, round, tank-like room sunk into the ground—will allow audiences to stand still on a platform and view it at their own pace, giving the immersive experience that painters originally intended.
The cyclorama painting was created as entertainment, not a historical document, and has been altered at various times to favor both Northern and Southern biases about the war, Jones said. One famous change was repainting Confederate prisoners of war to transform them into fleeing Yankee troops. A main reason the painting survived—one of only 17 from its era remaining worldwide—is because it appealed to the “Lost Cause” myth that the war was a noble effort rather than a defense of slavery, Jones said, adding that a large new exhibit around the new Cyclorama will explain that context.
For the History Center, the painting is another way to examine interpretations of the Civil War through an entertainment device that has now has its own long history. The History Center’s mission now, Jones said, is to tell the painting’s story “from attraction to artifact.”
Photos by Kate Awtrey.