About half of an enormous panoramic painting depicting the Civil War Battle of Atlanta has been moved to a new exhibit hall as workers continued to move the rest of the painting Friday.
Historians hailed the delicate, painstaking move as a milestone for the nearly 6-ton Cyclorama — one of the world's largest paintings — which was being moved in two sections from the city's Grant Park to the Atlanta History Center.
"The Battle of Atlanta is one of the crucial moments in the campaign that really determined the outcome of the war," said Gordon Jones, a military historian and curator at the history center. "What happened here in Atlanta is absolutely critical to the outcome of the country we know today."
The painting's vivid scenes of charging soldiers, rearing horses, battle flags and broken bodies stretch the length of a football field when it is fully unfurled. Created by the American Panorama Co. in Milwaukee in the 1880s, the more than 15,000-square-foot painting is one of only two such panoramas on display in the nation. The other one is at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
"Last night, we made history as the first scroll of The Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama painting was removed from the Grant Park facility and transported to Atlanta History Center," the history center said in an update early Friday.
On Thursday, Jones watched as about 25 workers cautiously bolted the first of the two sections of the painting to a frame to be lifted through the roof of a building and placed on a flatbed truck.
He said workers are taking a go-slow approach to ensure the painting is not damaged — "however long it takes."
"We will move that thing an inch at a time if we need to," he added.
Before the move, the painting was cut at a seam into two pieces. Both pieces were rolled onto the two gigantic, custom-built steel spools, each scroll taller than a four-story building.
Holes were carved in the concrete roof of the old Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum where it was housed for nearly a century.
Cranes were being used to lift the spools of painted history through the roof, and then out for the nine-mile trip north to a new building at the Atlanta History Center, spokesman Howard Pousner said.
The Atlanta painting had long been housed in a corner of the city zoo, something of a historic oddity in a city whose modern persona is more entwined with civil rights than the Civil War.
But before the age of movies, the panoramas offered a 360-degree view of battles and other historic events, and their popularity gave rise to a lucrative business for painters. The American Panorama Co. hired many German immigrants to paint the giant scenes at the Milwaukee company.
Gib Johnston, an 85-year-old resident of Athens, Georgia, stopped by to watch the move after dropping his wife off at Atlanta's airport.
"I've been coming out here for 80 years. I just had to come see it again," Johnston said Thursday. "It's something that's worth saving. I'm glad they're doing it."
After a lengthy restoration process, the "Battle of Atlanta" is to go on display again next year in a new 23,000-square-foot building at the history center. A viewing platform rising 12 feet above the gallery floor will offer "the sense of being enveloped by the 360-degree experience," history center officials have said.
The exhibit will also include the "diorama" featuring 128 plaster figures that had been displayed in the foreground of the painting since the 1930s, Jones said.
Among those plaster figures is a dead Union soldier with Clark Gable's face. It was created after Gable and other "Gone With The Wind" cast members visited the Cyclorama during the film's 1939 Atlanta premier, Jones said. While visiting, the actor made an offhand comment to Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield about his likeness being included in the display, Jones said.
"So Hartsfield contacted the guys who had done the plaster figures, and they promptly came up with a figure of a dead Union solider lying in the grass with the face of Clark Gable and a big bullet hole in his chest," Jones said.