Work is underway at Gettysburg National Military Park to rehabilitate the northern section of Cemetery Ridge to its historic condition, and a key step in that project has now been completed. On March 11, several dozen people gathered to watch the demolition of the last remaining portion of the old Cyclorama building. Click on the photo below for a short video taken as the last of the walls came tumbling down.
Now that the building itself is history, contractors are sorting recyclable metals and concrete is being crushed on site for use as fill material. The area will be returned as nearly as possible to its appearance at the time of the fighting in 1863 and the commemorative period from 1864 to 1938. On the building footprint itself, the park will replant grass, add some fencing, and return the 5th U.S. Artillery Battery B tablet and cannons to their previous locations.
The demolition work and contract management is being funded by the park's nonprofit partner, the Gettysburg Foundation.
Grading and seeding will be completed by April 30, and during the month of May, the area will be fenced so grass can become established. Weather permitting, the area will be opened to foot traffic by Memorial Day.
Still More Work to be Done
Additional changes in the area in the future include removing the old visitor center parking lot and reconfiguring and reducing the Cyclorama parking lot. Because the park anticipates needing all this parking during the 150th anniversary year at Gettysburg in 2013, that landscape work is being postponed until at least 2014.
There's still more work to be done in the future, and you'll find a summary of those steps at this link. The timing of the remaining steps is dependent on additional fundraising by the Gettysburg Foundation, which is covering almost all of the cost of this major undertaking.
Why all these changes at the park? According to a description of the project, the former "Visitor Center, Cyclorama Center and related improvements were located on ground which was held by the Union army and which was the site of major battle action during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. This area includes such landmarks as Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, Ziegler's Grove and Gen. Meade's headquarters."
"The extensive changes brought about by development have greatly altered these and other sites and have obliterated most of the features that existed at the time of the battle. This modern development makes it nearly impossible to visualize the conditions encountered by the soldiers in July 1863 and thus understand how those features and conditions influenced the fighting that outcome of the Battle." If you're interested in a summary of the military action that occurred in this location in 1863, you'll find it here.
Where Is the Cyclorama Now That the Building Is Gone?
Now that the old building is gone, you may wonder what happened to the massive work of art that was previously housed there. Others may not be familiar with the term "Cyclorama," so here's a quick explanation from the park.
"The Gettysburg Cyclorama is a 360-degree oil on canvas painting 359 feet long by 27 feet high that depicts the full fury of 'Pickett's Charge'. This unique painting was first shown in Boston in 1884 before coming to Gettysburg in 1913."
The enormous work of art underwent a major rehabilitation project beginning in 2003, and the cyclorama was moved to the new Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, where it was placed in its own unique viewing auditorium. The conserved painting was unveiled to visitors on September 26, 2008, during the grand opening of the visitor center.
Planning a visit to Gettysburg National Military Park? You'll find information to help do so on the park website. If you intend to go during the summer of 2013 be sure to plan ahead. This promises to be a very busy place this summer during the 150th anniversary of the battle.