Gettysburg Cyclorama 2010

August 6, 2010 - No Comments

by Jim Barnes

The following is a report by guest commentator, Matt Gillespie,  on the Gettysburg Cyclorama which has been moved to the new Visitor’s Center:

My family and I decided to have a mini-vacation since we had done no other traveling in 2010.  What better place to get some quality family bonding time than Gettysburg, PA.  None of us had been there since the new visitors center had opened in 2008.  I’d heard many good things about the new facility and couldn’t wait to see it.

Our first stop, upon arriving in Gettysburg, was the visitors center.  It was situated away from the main parts of the battlefield in a secluded area, but not too far.  Landscape nearby was left as natural as could be and could still accommodate parking and visitors.  Signage was well organized and things easy to find.

The exterior of the building was stone and glass.  Several post looked like hand hewn logs.  The middle area, accommodating the Paul Philippoteaux cyclorama painting, was built to resemble the cyclorama buildings of the 19th century.

We entered the facility via the main entrance and found it spacious and well organized.  After a quick trip to the easily found restrooms, we purchased tickets for the video and cyclorama.  Tickets were $10.50 per adult, $6.50 for 13-18 year olds.  Discounts are offered to “active duty” military personnel.  The film and cyclorama run every half hour from 8am to 4:30.  After a short wait in line we were ushered into the theatre.  Special seating for handicap was in the rear, all others were asked to descend the steps and take seats.  The screen was arced and large.  Seating was arranged to make the film easily viewed by all.

The film was excellent.  Hosted by everyone’s favorite sergeant-major, Morgan Freeman.  The explanations given for the start of the war were unbiased and tried to show both sides.  Reenactors used in the film were, unlike yours truly, young and slim, adding to the accuracy thereof.  The sound quality was unbelievable.  After explaining Lee’s artillery bombardment of 3 July 1863, the sound system was kicked into overdrive.

After the video we were ushered into the hall and directed to an escalator.  We were taken directly into the cyclorama.  The cyclorama had been completely redone to its original quality as it had been displayed in Boston in the 1880s.  The 14 feet of missing sky was back.  The viewing platform was raised higher than the 1963-2005 facility.  The diorama foreground was back.  Between the viewing platform and painting was dirt, grass, equipment, roads and more.  Things were matched so well, it was hard to tell where the diorama ended and the painting began.  Wheel tracks lined up perfectly.  A figure, drawing water from a well, had originally been painted to have the third leg of the well’s tripod be actual wood extending into the diorama.  It was restored.  The tripod had had just two legs for over 40 years.  The only bad thing was we did not get to spend near enough time viewing.  We were ushered out and back to the lobby.  There are also special events called “an evening with the painting”  in which you can spend an hour and a half with a paining expert.  These are only held on certain days, about twice a month.

After exiting we looked at a small area concerning some of the history of the painting.  There had been five versions, one each in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Wake Forrest.  Gettysburg houses the Boston version, the only one known to still exist.  Each version had subtle differences.  Gen. Armistead is incorrectly portrayed on horseback in the Gettysburg painting.  In other versions Philippoteaux corrected this mistake.  Other cycloramas of other battles also existed in the 19th century, but with the invention of the moving picture show, the cycloramas soon fell out of favor, were neglected and lost.

We then showed our tickets once again to gain access to the museum.  The museum was a series of rooms that wound to and fro.  The rooms were themed on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  It was well organized as well.  Civil War buffs will recognize some of the displays from the old museum, but there was plenty of new displays as well.  There was an interactive touch screen for kids next to a set of equipment that could be lifted to feel the weight a soldier carried.  Near the end of the museum were photos of hundreds of soldiers, North and South who had served at Gettysburg.  For fun, I thought I’d see if I could recognize any faces.  I couldn’t believe it!  At the bottom, on the Confederate side was Upshur County’s own Col. John C. Higganbothom.  It was the charcoal likeness his sister had draw after his death at Spotsylvania.

We then visited the very well stocked book store.  Be careful, you could spend a bunch of money in there.  I did purchase a $20 book on the cyclorama’s history and restoration.  All profits go to preservation efforts at Gettysburg.  Photography is allowed in the lobby, but not in the museum or cyclorama.  The museum also has a sizable restaurant.  We didn’t eat there but it looked very nice.

I then drove my family around the battlefield, being careful not to spend too much time there before getting them to the tourist shopping areas.  We saw the old museum has been razed.  There is no longer evidence of its existence.  The old cyclorama is fenced in and scheduled for destruction.  This should give Zeigler’s Grove a far more authentic look.

This proved to be one of the best outings I’d ever had with my family.  God has certainly blessed me with a wonderful family.  I highly recommend the new Gettysburg visitors center to all Civil War enthusiast.  I also recommend it to all Americans, enthusiast or not.  This is a portion of our common history we should all know.

Matthew P. Gillespie
3 August 2010


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