Atlanta's Cyclorama is the vivid retelling of the battle of Atlanta in an unusual art form whose popularity lasted less than 20 years. Commissioned by General John "Blackjack" Logan to further his political aspirations, the painting is now displayed in Grant Park, just west of the site of the battle.
About the Battle
On July 22, 1864 forces under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman (bio) were attacked by General John Bell Hood (biography of John Bell Hood) in a remote area east of downtown. During the 8+ hours of fighting the Confederate Army was dealt a serious blow, losing more than 8,000 men (the actual number of causalities is a hotly debated topic). More about the battle
Cycloramas - early Virtual Reality
Today, the Atlanta Cyclorama houses one of a few remaining examples in the world of an art form that was popular at the end of the 19th century, before moving pictures. A "cyclorama" was a show in a cylindrical room or building that featured a painting on the outer wall of the room and the patrons seated (or standing) in the center.
Cycloramas were a European revision of an art form that started in America. Artists would frequently recreate scenes in the United States that people would never be able to see for themselves, then charge admission to view the painting. The most famous (and largest) of these was a three mile long depiction of the Mississippi River from its start at remote Lake Itasca to its end at the delta. People would walk 1.5 miles through a tunnel with the painting on either side.
Most people believe cycloramas started in Munich after the Franco-Prussian War and some of the earliest subjects were battles of that great conflict. Interest grew in the United States and in the 1880's a number of studios began to produce cycloramas. The content of these included biblical vignettes, battles of the Civil War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and foreign landscapes.
Although cycloramas had developed in Europe, they were popularized to a cultural level in America. In 1889 a group of American investors exported the idea to Australia, building the Cyclorama of Early Melbourne. About this time, cyclorama operators began to experiment with dioramas, three-dimensional scenes added to the bottom and top of the canvas. Wax figures were frequently incorporated into these dioramas.
At the start of the 20th century, in order to compete with movies, the exhibitors began to add sound and effects. The combination of pyrotechnic effects and wax figures created serious fire threats for the exhibitors and a number of the buildings burned.
With the advent of motion pictures the content changed to incorporate disasters and science fiction themes such as trips to the Moon and Mars. By 1930 the art form had all but vanished, with only a few remaining in the large cities. Once a painting had exceeded its use it would be thrown out, sold as junk or cut up into smaller pictures and sold to interested parties.
Obviously, motion pictures played an important role in the decline of the cyclorama, but there were other problems as well. The unusual display room, a need for large numbers of unique visitors, and high production and transportation costs all contributed to the end of the cyclorama era.
The Cyclorama in Atlanta
Today the cyclorama of the Battle of Atlanta is housed in a specially-designed building known simply as the Cyclorama, centrally located towards the south side of Grant Park. The structure, designed by noted Atlanta architect John Francis Downing, was completed in 1921, and is owned by the Atlanta park system. When completed, the building was heavily promoted as fireproof because of the number of incidents that had occurred in other cyclorama buildings.
In 1967 a violent thunderstorm caused heavy damage to the building, and resulting damage to the painting. Continuing problems forced the park system to close the building in 1979 for renovation of both the structure and the painting. The Atlanta Cyclorama reopened amid great fanfare in 1982. It was during this period that the tiered seating platform in the center of the room housing the painting was added. Renovation on the painting is an ongoing project, and local restoration experts like Shea Avery (web site) are called on regularly to assist in efforts to maintain the painting.
About the painting
The Battle of Atlanta was commissioned by General "Blackjack" Logan, who was vying to become vice-president of the United States. The painting vividly depicts a charge that he led about 4:30 pm after being appointed temporary commander of the Army of the Tennessee after the death of General James McPherson (biography of James McPherson), as well as other events occurring at that point in time including the intense battle in the vicinity of the Troup-Hurt House. Although the painting accurately depicts the fighting, it definitely takes a Union perspective. General Sherman can be seen near the Augustus Hurt house while General Hood is not in the painting.
Second of the cyclorama paintings created by William Wehler's American Panorama Company studio in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, The Battle of Atlanta originally contained more than 20,000 square feet of painted surface. It toured in northern cities including Milwaukee, Detroit and Minneapolis. The painting was purchased by a Madison, Georgia businessman in 1890 who also owned the first cyclorama produced by Wehler's company, "Storming of Missionary Ridge and Battle Above the Clouds" (note: this painting is known under a variety of similar names). In an interesting twist of fate, The Battle of Atlanta was displayed in Chattanooga (History of Chattanooga) when Missionary Ridge moved from that city to a building on Edgewood Avenue near Piedmont Road. Atlanta got its first view of The Battle of Atlanta on February 12, 1892, when it premiered at the location vacated by the Chattanooga cyclorama. Less than a year later on January 18, 1893, the roof on the Edgewood Avenue building collapsed because of the weight of eight inches of snow.
Over the next 20 years the city of Atlanta slowly took control of the painting. After moving the painting to the building now known as the Cyclorama, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) added a diorama in the 1930's. When the Cyclorama was renovated in 1979, this diorama was replaced because the natural material used had destroyed about 20% of the original painting. Workers replaced the destructive Georgia red clay with fiberglass and plastic.
About your visit
The highlight of any visit to the Cyclorama has to be the painting depicting the battle. Currently only 42' high and 358' long it is wrapped in circle so the length is frequently given as circumference (original dimensions 60' x 360').
After the show you may visit a Civil War museum that includes The Texas, a Civil War era train that was engaged in a episode now commonly called "The Great Locomotive Chase."
Among the remaining cycloramas are the Battle of Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the Cyclorama of Jerusalem in Ste. Anne de Beaupr´┐Ż, near Quebec City, Canada. The National Park Service is trying to recreate the Battle of Manassas. Pieces of the painting have been uncovered in various places across the United States.
Roadside Georgia travel tip: The first parking lot on Boulevard is heavily used. Continue to Atlanta Ave. and turn right. Turn right at Cherokee Ave. and make a right at the cannons. This is a slightly longer walk, but normally there is plenty of available parking.
Location: In Grant Park, near downtown Atlanta
Directions: Take I-20 to Boulevard Avenue, exit 59a. Travel south on Boulevard .5 miles to parking entrance on the left.
Date added: November 16, 2003
Last update: January 15, 2008
Other Attractions in Atlanta
Tour of Turner Field
Coca-Cola bottle at Turner Field
Margaret Mitchell House
Harry's Farmers Market
Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame Museum
World of Coca Cola
Carter Library and Museum
Ray's On The River
Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History
Southeastern Railroad Museum
Gone With The Wind Movie Museum
Lee and Gordon's Mill
Margaret Mitchell House
Union County Courthouse Museum
Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art
Kennesaw Civil War Museum
Chieftains Musuem / Major Ridge Home
Rome Area History Museum
The Martha Berry Museum
Crown Gardens & Archives
Allatoona Lake Visitor's Center
Marietta Museum of History
Etowah Indian Mounds State Park
Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum
New Echota State Park
Georgia Music Hall of Fame
Carter Library and Museum
Dahlonega Gold Museum
Funk Heritage Center