Gettysburg Cyclorama

A Day in the Life…

… Of a Visitor to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

The site of the most significant civil war battle was fought in 1863  in the fields surrounding the little town of  Gettysburg PA. At that time the town had 2400 residents.  Today, the town has a population of 7700 residents and is the home of the Gettysburg Cyclorama, the Gettysburg Museum, the Gettysburg  National Cemetery, and the Gettysburg Battlefield part of the Gettysburg National Military Park as well as many other historic homes and sites.

The first  “MUST SEE” when you arrive at the Visitor Center in the National Park is the Gettysburg Cyclorama.  In the late 1800s, Cycloramas were very popular both in America and Europe.  Cycloramas are massive oil on canvas paintings with landscaped foregrounds which sometimes featured trees, grass, fences, and life-sized figures. Most cycloramas depicted dramatic events such as religious epics, dramas from great literature or historical battles.  Hundreds of these were painted and exhibited in great auditoriums or theaters around the country until movies came on the scene and this form of entertainment died out.  The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama was painted by a French artist named Paul Philippoteaux depicting Pickett’s Charge, the Confederate attack on the Union forces during the July 3, 1963 Battle of Gettysburg. He was hired by a group of businessmen for a display in Chicago.  After making hundreds of sketches and photographs of the battlefield and the terrain and interviewing some of the survivors and with the help of a team of artists he finished the cyclorama painting a year and a half later. When it was displayed in Chicago, he had added landscape and relics in front of the painting to give it a 3-D effect.  Since this was such a big hit in Chicago, another group commissioned him to paint a second one for display in Boston.   20 years later, visitation had declined to the point of the display closing in Boston. The cyclorama was purchased by a Gettysburg area entrepreneur and he had it moved to Gettysburg.  It arrived in pretty good condition, but some repair was needed before it could be displayed properly.  Some of the top portions of the Cyclorama had been removed, but they got it ready for display in the building built in Gettysburg specifically for the Cyclorama display. It remained in that building for 40 years until it was purchased in the 1940s  for display in the new National Park Service Visitor Center 1962 which was later called the Cyclorama Center.    The Gettysburg Cyclorama is 377 feet long, 42 feet high and weighs 12 ½ tons.  In 2003, the Cyclorama underwent a 13 million dollar rehabilitation, repairing some of the unstable portions of the canvas and restoring original details lost during previous renovation attempts. It was moved to the new Gettysburg National Visitor Center and placed in a special auditorium with a skyline and 3 D effects in the foreground.  This opened to visitors in September 2008.   10 years later in September 2018 we visited the center and were able to experience the Cyclorama. I couldn’t take pictures in there and the online pictures I saw were copyrighted so there are none with this post.

There is a charge to get into the Cyclorama and Museum but it is well worth the cost.

Costs for the Film, Cyclorama and the Museum Experience when we went:

Adult (ages 13+) = $15.00
Seniors (65+) and Military Veterans = $14.00
Active Duty U.S. Military Personnel = FREE
AAA Discount = $14.00
Youth (ages 6-12) = $10.00
Children (5 and under) = FREE

There is also a pass available you can ask about at the Membership desk in the visitor center.

Because there are so many “Must Sees” here, I’ll be writing more about Gettysburg in the next several posts.

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