19th Century Cycloramas

In the 1880s, a new technology for the era captured everyone’s attention. It was a ‘cyclorama’, a circular structure with panoramic paintings inside in a 360-degree arrangement. Any could the viewer inside a feeling of being in a certain location. Very popular cyclorama scenes were battle scenes from the American Civil War, the Chicago Fire of 1871, Niagara Falls or the Battle of Waterloo.

By using drawings, paintings and photos along with special lighting and real installations such a grassy areas, trees, plants and water, and background music or sounds, the spectator standing in the center could have a sense of reliving historical scenes or what it would be like to visit certain locations. Some of the paintings were quite large, 42 feet high and 358 feet long.

The Cycloramas first introduced in the 1780s in Scotland came to America by the late 1800s. Mostly set up in large cities, many of your ancestors may have have had the chance to visit one or more cyclorama programs. Even if they did not live in a big city, many made the trip for a few days to a city showing a cyclorama. There was an admission charge and after a week or so, the program would be moved to another city. Several hundred were produced with at one time 16 cycloramas structure worldwide. This for the period was a form of pre-cinema (film) form of entertainment. Once silent films did appear in the early 1900s, the cycloramas was not impressive anymore. Years later, very few still survive.

Photo: Drawing of a cyclorama in 1889 showing the ‘Battle of Bunker Hill’.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Spice Up the Family History

Stories in Hometown Newspapers

Fun Activities in the 1880s

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