History comes full circle in the Atlanta Cyclorama

Dr. Gordon Jones tells a rapt audience the story of the Atlanta Cyclorama.

Dr. Gordon Jones tells a rapt audience the story of the Atlanta Cyclorama.

Today at the South Carolina Relic Room and Military Museum, a rapt audience heard about another extraordinary effort to preserve and protect history — the moving of the Atlanta Cyclorama to a new home.

At the museum’s free monthly Lunch and Learn session, Dr. Gordon L. Jones of the Atlanta History Center answered the question: How do you move a delicate, deteriorating, 130-year- old painting that just happens to be a national treasure, and is one of the few remaining examples of a once popular genre of art? Especially when it’s also four stories tall, longer than a football field and weighs more than six tons?

First, Dr. Jones shared the history of cycloramas, which he described as the 19th-century version of virtual reality. They were a popular form of entertainment also billed as educational. The Atlanta Cyclorama is a 360-degree panoramic painting depicting the 1864 Battle of Atlanta. Originally painted in Milwaukee and intended as a dramatic salute to Union victory in the Civil War, it was advertised as “the only Confederate victory ever painted” when it was moved to Atlanta in 1892. That marketing twist helped turn out large audiences to view the work.

It portrayed the battle at a pivotal point when both sides were advancing on different parts of the field, allowing partisans of either side to project their own wishes upon the spectacle.

Battles were a very popular subject for cycloramas, but so were such other sweeping dramatic vistas as “Jerusalem on the day of the Crucifixion,” the Chicago Fire and the Siege of Paris.

A special building was constructed for the Atlanta work in 1921, but someone did their sums wrong — part of the painting had to be cut out because the building wasn’t big enough.

The building was renovated in 1979-82, but over time, it ceased to support itself as a separate attraction.

So began the herculean effort to move it into a new, $25-million, state-of- the-art museum facility. The work is still underway, and will be ready to view in the fall of 2018. The cyclorama will be viewed as originally intended, with lost portions repainted, and the viewing area as true to the original 1785 cyclorama patent as modern fire codes will allow.

The new display will stand as not only a depiction of an important event in history, but as a reflection of the time in which it was created.

Dr. Jones, a South Carolina native, invited all to come check it out.

The painters of the Cyclorama pause to pose in 1886.

The painters of the Cyclorama pause to pose in 1886.