Sunday, April 29, 2018

Once-in-a-Lifetime Tour of the Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama and Texas Locomotive

For a short time, you don't have the have the fame of Clark Gable to see the Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama painting up close, and you don't have to chase railroad saboteurs to take a 'ride' on the Texas Locomotive. On Saturdays, until sometime this fall, you can tour the future exhibition space and aforementioned historical icons on an exclusive, private guided tour at the Atlanta History Center.


Texas Locomotive | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor
Texas Locomotive | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor

The Atlanta History Center announced in 2014 that it had acquired the Texas Locomotive and the Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama.

The Texas was sent to the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer, N.C. for restoration before being moved to the Atlanta History Center.


"After many years of limited view in the basement of the Cyclorama building in Grant Park, we are putting the Texas in a place where it is going to be front and center," History Center Vice President of Properties Jackson McQuigg said of the locomotive, which will be illuminated at night and clearly visible from West Paces Ferry Road at all hours. "This engine that has been at times forgotten in its long lifetime is going to become a focal point."

Even though the exhibit doesn't open until this fall, even now when you pass by the Atlanta History Center after dark, you'll see the Texas front and center, brilliantly illuminated behind a floor-to-ceiling glass window...it's a striking sight!



Texas Locomotive | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor
Texas Locomotive | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor


Major funding for the new gallery showcasing the Texas was provided by the Gary W. Rollins Foundation. CSX Corporation is major sponsor for the exhibition that will interpret the Texas’ remarkable history.

The Texas and the General, the General being the star attraction at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia, are the sole surviving locomotives that once served the Western & Atlantic Railroad, a company key in Atlanta's early development.

While the Southen Museum does a great job discussing the locomotives' roles in The Great Locomotive Chase, the Atlanta History Center selected to restore the Texas to its 1886 paint scheme—black, gold and some red—to complement the Battle of Atlanta painting, which was completed in 1886. The Center will focus less on The Great Locomotive Chase and more on the role of transportation's role—specifically railroads—in growing Atlanta.

If you're a fan of the Miami Dolphins, you're going to love this! During the restoration process, conservators discovered that the Texas had previously been painted teal and orange! There is currently no evidence why it was painted those colors. What a sight it must have been!

That's only one of the cornucopia of facts you'll learn on this 90-minute tour. Bring your camera (no flash photography, of course) and sense of adventure


Texas Locomotive | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor
Texas Locomotive | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor

It was on April 12, 1862 that Union Army loyalists commandeered the General from the town of Big Shanty (now Kennesaw) and drove it north toward Chattanooga, wreaking destruction to the W&A line, until finally being caught by Confederate forces who had pursued aboard the Texas.
The Great Locomotive Chase lives large in pop culture as the subject of a 1926 Buster Keaton film and a popular 1956 Disney movie of the same name, as well as in dozens of books.
My big Sheldon moment: I got to ring the bell on the Texas Locomotive! 
You can, too! Tour participants, with great excitement, get to 'climb aboard' the Texas, stand where her engineers once stood, and can ring its bell and let their imaginations wander through the train's adventures from 1856 until it was retired in 1907.


Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor
Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor

The wonderful thing about this tour right now is that you'll be one of only a hand few of people who got to walk right up to the Cyclorama and explore it in great detail.Once the dioramas go in, that opportunity will be erased from possibility.


Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor
Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor

New structures have been built to display the Texas Locomotive and the Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama. The structure was built around the Texas after she was moved in place, and the Cyclorama was placed in its display room from above.

This fly-through animation was an early concept video of what the space would look like and much of what's been built-out does indeed look like this, except for the placement of the Texas.

You'll notice in the video that visitors pass through a tunnel before venturing up to the viewing platform to see the Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama. That tunnel will be built on the lower level and lead to the escalators you see in the photo above!

That's one of the things that makes THIS tour unique and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Once that tunnel is built and the dioramas are in place, there's no more up-close-and-personal with the Cyclorama painting. That experience is now or never!


Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor
Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor

The artist in me totally geeked out seeing a restoration professional's painting palette. The talent, precision, and insight required to restore priceless artifacts almost boggles the mind. More than that, it's impressive and admirable. I am grateful for those who have chosen to make restoration their life's work. 


Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor
Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor

The tour goes through more than just the Battle of Atlanta. You will hear about the hand full of other Cycloramas around the world—there aren't many! You will hear about the designers and painters and today's conservators. Based on a number of factors, this incredibly insightful tour takes more than an hour with some extra time at the end to explore more!


Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor
Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor

If you're a fan or a regular visitor at the Atlanta History Center, you probably noticed that the new space encompasses the gallery where the Centennial Olympic Games Museum once was. I've been told by multiple sources that it will return, but have no further details at this time. I've stood in the modern Olympic Stadium in Athens, Greece, and attended soccer games during the 1996 Olympic Games...I'll be super-excited to see the return of that exhibition, but I'm loving this one, too!


Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor
Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor

If you're a local, you'll immediately recognize our Stone Mountain (East of Atlanta) and Kennesaw Mountain (Northwest of Atlanta) in the painting's horizon. You'll see a number of houses, too, that your tour guide will share the significance of. 

It was 20 years after the war that artists from Milwaukee came to Atlanta to sketch our terrain for the painting. Although you see a capital building in the Atlanta skyline, it wasn't until four years after the conclusion of the Battle of Atlanta that Atlanta was even made the capital of Georgia. During the war, Milledgeville—about and hour and 40 minutes Southeast toward Savannah—held that distinction.

There are other oddities points of interest that your tour guide will share with you. I think you'll be completely and totally fascinated!   


Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor
Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama | Atlanta History Center | Photo: Travis. S Taylor

The group I toured with was great! There were youngsters and retirees, locals and visitors. And our tour guide Jami was magnificent! She's well-versed in the history of the Texas Locomotive and the Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama and she's incredibly hospitable. She made sure to keep the group together and to speak to 'all of us'...she made it a fun group experience!

I'm told that these tours will be offered for as long as they do not interfere with the conservators' work, which is expected to be until near the time of the opening of the exhibitions to the public this fall. 

But don't wait. The last time I know of that anyone getting this close to the Cyclorama was in 1939 when Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, and Olivia DeHaviland toured it the day after the premiere of Gone With the Wind. For a short while, you don't have to have Hollywood fame to see one of only a few handful of remaining Cycloramas in the world.

Tours are available at 1:00pm on Saturdays or you can call and make prior arrangements. The cost of the tour varies based on your involvement with the Atlanta History Center.

Go see some history, and two remarkable artifacts that are being brought back to new.

(NOTE: Although I'm a longtime member of the Atlanta History Center—a membership that I use frequently—the Center treated me to a ticket for this tour. All opinions are my own, not influenced by the Center or anyone else.)

1 comment:

Teresa Hamilton said...

What a beautiful place. Thank you for sharing the experience.
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