Gettysburg National Military Park | GETTYSBURG CYCLORAMA AND FILM

Visitors enjoy the Gettysburg Cyclorama Sound and Light Show

Visitors enjoy the Gettysburg Cyclorama Sound and Light Show

TICKET INFORMATION

The Gettysburg Cyclorama presentation and the film A New Birth of Freedom are shown at the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center. Timed tickets are required for entry. The film is shown first, then the group proceeds to the cyclorama. Plan to spend an hour for these two attractions.

Cyclorama and Film tickets also include entry into the Gettysburg Museum. While it is possible to get a museum-only ticket for a few bucks less, I highly recommend purchasing a ticket for all three attractions if you really want to learn about the Battle of Gettysburg. Having some knowledge of the battle will go a long way in helping you understand what you are seeing once you venture out to explore the actual battlefield.

You can purchase tickets at the Gettysburg Foundation’s ticket desk inside the Visitor Center or in advance on the Foundation’s Film, Cyclorama, and Museum Experience web page (you can also get prices on this page). Because the Visitor Center is owned and operated by the Gettysburg Foundation and is not a National Park Service facility, National Park Passes of any kind are not valid for ticket purchases or discounts. There is a $1 discount for AAA members and active military personnel and veterans (you must show the proper membership ID).

BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG CYCLORAMA

Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama at Gettysburg National Historical Park's Visitor Center

Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama at Gettysburg National Historical Park’s Visitor Center

Cycloramas are large-scale painted murals that form a complete circle around the viewing area and often have dioramas at their base. These were popular attractions in the late 1800s, for in the days long before radio, television, and movies, they provided a way for an audience to experience a battle, disaster, the crucifixion of Christ, or one of the wonders of the natural world such as Niagara Falls.

The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama, which depicts Pickett’s Charge from the viewpoint of Cemetery Ridge near the High Water Mark, was painted by Paul Philippoteaux, an artist who painted at least eight cycloramas in his lifetime. In fact, he did four versions of Pickett’s Charge, and other artists did knock-off versions. The first of Philippoteaux’s Gettysburg paintings went on display in Chicago starting in October 1883, and a second went on display in Boston in December 1884. The other two were commissioned for Philadelphia and Brooklyn. Hundreds of thousands of people paid to see these cycloramas. The version now exhibited at the Gettysburg Visitor Center is the Boston painting.

Section of the Gettysburg Cyclorama at Gettysburg National Military Park

Section of the Gettysburg Cyclorama at Gettysburg National Military Park

The popularity of cycloramas faded with time, and many of the paintings deteriorated into ruins. Such was the fate of the Boston version of the Gettysburg Cyclorama. After being replaced by a new painting, it was stored in a crate and sustained damage from weather, fire, and vandals. It was eventually purchased in 1911 by Albert Hahne, who then split it up, displaying some panels in his department store and others in various government buildings on the east coast.

In 1913, all the pieces of the Boston cyclorama were collected together for display in Gettysburg for the 50th anniversary of the battle. The cyclorama was housed in a building on Baltimore Street near the entrance of Soldiers’ National Cemetery (aka Gettysburg National Cemetery) for the next 30 years, but the building was not heated and eventually leaked rain, and the mural suffered more damage. The National Park Service purchased the painting in 1942 and moved it to an existing building near the current Visitor Center. The painting was eventually restored and installed in a brand new building in 1963, and it remained on display at this location until 2005, at which time the exhibit was closed so that the painting could be restored.

While work was done on the painting, the current Visitor Center building was constructed. The project included a theater specifically for the display of the painting. The facility opened in 2008, and the Gettysburg Cyclorama, now completely restored, was on display once again. The 1963 building was torn down in 2013.

Gettysburg National Military Park's Visitor Center and Cyclorama building

Gettysburg National Military Park’s Visitor Center and Cyclorama building

Today visitors to Gettysburg National Military Park can view the cyclorama as part of the Gettysburg Foundation’s Film, Cyclorama, and Museum Experience. However, there is more to it than just looking at the painting. The production entails an audio program that describes the fighting that took place on July 3, 1863, including excepts from diaries of men who fought in the battle. This is accompanied by battlefield sound effects and lights that illuminate sections of the painting depending on the events being discussed by the narrator. The program lasts six minutes, but visitors are allowed to remain afterwards to view the painting at their own leisure. I spent another ten minutes taking photos.

A NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOM

The 22-minute film shown at the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park’s Visitor Center is titled A New Birth of Freedom and narrated by Morgan Freeman. The film starts off by covering the roots of the Civil War, focusing largely on the dispute over slavery. After this short segment, the events leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg are detailed. The bulk of the film covers the battle itself, and the film does a fine job of explaining the overall battle strategies. If you plan to visit the Gettysburg Museum, you can learn about the finer details of the battle there. The last part of the film covers the aftermath of the battle, particularly how it affected the town of Gettysburg, and the lasting effects of the Civil War.

A New Birth of Freedom combines live-action battle reenactments with historical photos and animated battle maps. I would rate the film PG, not because of any battle scenes but because the film does show some historical photographs of dead, mangled bodies, which may upset young children (and possibly some squeamish adults as well).

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Last updated on September 12, 2022
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