Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum

The Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum is a civil war museum located in Atlanta, its most noted attraction being the Atlanta Cyclorama, a cylindrical panoramic painting of the American Civil War Battle of Atlanta. The museum is located in historic Grant Park, adjacent to Zoo Atlanta.

Visitors view the cylindrical painting from the inside, entering through an entrance in the floor. After being seated, the central cylinder rotates slowly affording a view of the entire painting. The painting at one time was the largest oil painting in the world, and if unrolled would measure 42 feet high by 358 feet long. It held this record until 2004, when it was surpassed in size by a mural at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo measuring 32 feet high by 800 feet long.

The painting depicts fierce fighting during the Civil War as Confederate defenders of Atlanta unsuccessfully counterattacked the Union army on July 22, 1864. The painting was commissioned after the end of the war as part of the political campaign of Vice Presidential candidate John A. Logan, who had commanded a large part of the Union forces in the battle. Thus, parts of the painting emphasize the heroism of Logan and other Union commanders.

One of several massive cycloramas depicting Civil War battles painted during the 1880s, the Battle of Atlanta painting was created by the American Panorama Company in Milwaukee by a team led by Germans Friedrich Wilhelm Heine and August Lohr. They also consulted Civil War artist and witness Theodore Davis, whom they painted into the work. It opened to display in Detroit, Michigan, in 1887.

The painting was sold and ended up in the hands of a traveling circus. When this circus came to Atlanta in the late 19th century, few Atlantans wished to see a Northern-biased painting that glorified the defeat that would lead to the destruction of their city. So, with little attendance, the circus went bankrupt, selling its assets including the painting and the animals. The animals became the founding attraction at Zoo Atlanta and the painting was housed in a wooden structure next to the zoo.

The museum was built in 1921 to house the painting. Designed by John Francis Downing, the neoclassical building was built in Grant Park. After a period of neglect, the painting and building were restored in the 1980s.

The Cyclorama was narrated at one time by volunteers, some of whom were veterans or widows of veterans of the Civil War. In 1960, Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield accepted the donation of a recorded narration written by Junius Andrew Park, Jr., in honor of his father, Junius Andrew Park, Sr., who was born and raised in Atlanta. Research was done by Lurline Richardson Park, the writer's wife. The narration was musically scored by Atlanta musician Sam T. Wilhoit and the narration was read by Hollywood actor Victor Jory, who appeared in the original motion picture, Gone with the Wind. All parties donated their time and labor. In later years, a revised narration was produced and narrated by actor Shepperd Strudwick.

The Civil War Museum displays pictures and artifacts from the Civil War, including the Texas, a steam locomotive that pursued the captured train the General in the Great Locomotive Chase during the war. This raid was depicted in the 1927 Buster Keaton film The General and the 1956 Disney film The Great Locomotive Chase.

A movie theater inside the museum shows a short film about the Atlanta Campaign, narrated by James Earl Jones, to visitors before they view the painting. The cyclorama painting itself is augmented by a three-dimensional diorama in front of the painting and a narration of the events of the battle and the history of the painting. A popular story concerning the diorama involves actor Clark Gable. During the celebrations surrounding the opening of the film Gone with the Wind, the film's actors visited the Atlanta Cyclorama. Gable allegedly claimed that the only way the painting could be any more magnificent was if he were in it, prompting the management to add Gable's features to one of the sculptures in the diorama, that of a dying soldier.

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