Chicago had three cyclorama buildings in 1884, five by 1891 and six panorama rotundas operated by six panorama companies in 1893. One is believed to have been located near the 1893 Columbian Exposition. In 1874 a traveling cyclorama of Paris By Night was displayed at the Interstate Exposition Building.
I. INTERSTATE EXPOSITION BUILDING, Michigan Avenue and Adams Street.
Inter Ocean, Saturday, July 4, 1874
PARIS BY NIGHT.
To-day the great picture will be open to the public in the morning, as well as the afternoon and evening, affording those who are tied to business during other evenings of the week an opportunity to see the finest picture in the world. If there is any air at all stirring outside, the big wind-sail carries it down to the gallery from which the French metropolis is viewed, thereby insuring comfort even on the warmest day. No one should permit the great cyclorama to leave Chicago without having seen it.
II. CYCLORAMA, Wabash and Hubbard Court (Balbo Avenue).
Chicago Times, December 2, 1883
Battle of Gettysburg
The establishment and sudden spring into public favor of the Panorama of the Battle of Gettysburg, at the corner of Wabash avenue and Hubbard court, have been quite out of the usual fashion of the day. It is rare that any single amusement enterprise,— if, indeed, this can be classed as an amusement simply,—projects and erects a large and substantial building for its own use, and especially one wholly unfit for any other use, and it is quite as rare that any such scheme is entered upon absolutely without resort to any of the “circussing” advertising devices so common in our day. This one came among us so quiet and proceeded so unostentatiously in the erection of its building that next to nobody had any idea, as the building made daily progress, what it was designed for, and the most ludicrous conjectures were common. The very quietness of the proceeding, however, argued in its projectors the most absolute confidence, and the event has shown this confidence to be solidly founded. The panorama is universally conceded by all who have seen it to be the most extraordinary work of art ever seen in this city. To describe it in words is impossible. It must be seen in order to have any idea of its striking realistic effect.
The curious building, brilliantly illuminated by night with electric lights, with windowless walls, lighted during the day only through the roof without a single glaring poster to catch the eye of the passers along the streets, has become the center of attraction to the most intelligent and cultivated classes of the community to that extent that is often difficult to gain admission by reason of the throng. The moral is an obvious and encouraging one, for the stimulating influence of such an exhibition on the growth of a general public taste for the higher forms of art can hardly be overestimated.
The entrance fee to these remarkable illusions and pictures is 50 cents, and you may stay as long as you please, an interesting lecture being delivered meanwhile. Paris by Moonlight was the first cyclorama seen in Chicago. It was shown in the Exposition Building in 1875. Jerusalem, The Siege of Paris, Shiloh, and the Monitor and Merrimac have since been exhibited to admiring throngs. The artist who gained greatest celebrity in this work had the alarming name of Philippoteaux.
Paul Philippoteaux (1846-1923), principal artist and creator of the Gettysburg Cyclorama, first visited the battlefield in 1882. To prepare the project, he built a 30 foot platform on site to view the landscape. He studied War Department maps and conducted interviews with participants— Generals Hancock, Webb, Gibbon, and Doubleday, among others. He also relied on photographs of the battlefield taken by William Tipton. Philippoteaux first created a 1/10 scale oil study. He then sketched the entire composition in pen and ink upon which he drew grid lines and projected the drawing, with grid lines, onto the full canvas. The process of planning and executing the project took about two years.
Detail of the Battle of Gettysburg
The effect of these creations was variously described as “simply astounding” and creating “a suspension of reality that took one‘s breath away.” It was called “so realistic it could be confused with reality.” General John Gibbon, who commanded a division at Gettysburg, extolled the virtues of the painting:
…you may rest assured you have got a sight to see before you die. It is simply wonderful and I never before had an idea that the eye could be so deceived by paint and canvas….The perspective and representation of the landscape is simply perfect….it was difficult to disabuse my mind of the impression that I was actually on the ground.
At Hubbard Court and Wabash Avenue will be found two similar exhibitions on opposite corners. The western one is Battle of Gettysburg, the first of permanent institutions of this character. The illusions of these devices can not be described, all are interesting and remarkable. Across the way from Battle of Gettysburg is Jerusalem and the Crucifixion. The panorama of the Battle of Gettysburg is 50 feet high by 400 feet long.
The Battle of Gettysburg opened on October 22, 1883 in its Rotunda at Wabash and Hubbard (7th Street). The other three followed: Boston, December, 1884; Philadelphia, July, 1886; and Brooklyn, October, 1886.
Aerial View of Cyclorama Building at Wabash Ave and Hubbard Court
Cyclorama Buildings at Wabash Ave and Hubbard Court (Balbo Avenue today)
Cyclorama Buildings at Wabash Ave and Hubbard Court
Robinson Fire Map
Rand McNally Bird’s Eye Views of Chicago, 1898
Panoramas.—To the country visitor doubtless the of which in offer are now five the city, will delight and surprise. The northernmost is opposite the Art Institute, and represents the Chicago Fire. It is more truly the burned district as it appeared on the morning of October 9, 1871. It is accurately historical, and should be seen. The color, however, is far too low in tone, a truer effect being obtained by viewing it through red glass. At Hubbard Court and Wabash Avenue will be found two similar exhibitions on opposite corners. The western one is Gettysburg, the first of our permanent institutions of this character. The illusions of these devices can not be described, and, although those of the Chicago Fire are perhaps best, all are interesting and remarkable. Across the way from Gettysburg is Jerusalem and the Crucifixion, and here the scene along the road-side is a faithfully presented picture, and a row of water-jars represented in the foreground is scarcely distinguishable from similar, yet actual, objects in close proximity.
The entrance fee to these remarkable illusions and pictures is 50 cents, and you may stay as long as you please, an interesting lecture being delivered meanwhile. “Paris by Moonlight” was the first cyclorama seen in Chicago. It was shown in the Exposition Building in 1875. “Jerusalem, “The Siege of Paris,” “Shiloh,” and the “Monitor and Merrimac” have since been exhibited to admiring throngs. The artist who gained greatest celebrity in this work had the alarming name of Philippoteaux.
8. The Chicago Fire Cyclorama.
At 127-132 Michigan Avenue, receives some description and comment in our chapter on “Amusements.” The building was erected in 1892, and occupies a lot 120 feet wide by 180 feet deep. The height is 60 feet. It is said that 144,000 people view the circular painting each year.
The northernmost is opposite the Art Institute, and represents the Chicago Fire. It is more truly the burned district as it appeared on the morning of October 9, 1871. It is accurately historical, and should be seen. The color, however, is far too low in tone, a truer effect being obtained by viewing it through red glass. Located on Michigan ave,, near Madison St., opposite the old Exposition building. This is a cycloramic building, formerly occupied by the picture of the Battle of Shiloh. Slides, roller skating, music by military band and novelties make up the entertainment. Open day and evening. Admission, 50 cents ; children, half-price.
The success of the Chicago Cyclorama generated imitators – at one time there were two dozen such paintings. But by the end of the 1880s, the cyclorama was no longer the attraction it once was.
The Chicago Cyclorama closed in 1890 but was refurbished for the Columbian Exposition in 1893. It closed in 1895 and was allegedly destroyed in a fire.
III. CYCLORAMA, Michigan and Adams Street.
Observanda, McVicker’s New Theater, 1891
Cyclorama Building on Michigan Avenue
Robinson Fire Map
Chicago Tribune, March 4, 1888 (Page 12)
THE NEW CYCLORAMA
That Famous Battle Between the Monitor and the Merrimac.
There will shortly be placed on exhibition at the Shiloh Building on Michigan avenue.
Some of the names of the companies that produced panoramas in Chicago were:
Reed & Gross Panorama Co., 425 W.61st St. ca 1885-1901
Simeon W.King Panorama Company (Chicago Fire)
Philadelphia Panorama Company of Chicago
Palentine Exhibition Company of Chicago
One of the most striking and beautiful buildings on Wabash avenue, is that built by the American Panorama Company for the exhibition of F. Philippoteaux’ last and greatest battlepiece of “The Siege of Paris; or, The Battle of Montretout.” It is located at the southeast corner of Wabash avenue and Hubbard Court. The height of the main building, which is circular, is over 80 feet, and the circumference is more than 400 feet. The entrance building in front is a model of architectural and beauty. Embowered in trees, with lawns in front and at the sides, this immense structure presents a striking appearance. itself corresponds in size to the ‘he building. It is recognized by artists and connoisseurs as one of the masterpieces of the century, and by the general public as one of the grandest productions of genius. It is open from 8.30 a. m. until 10.30 p. m., Sundays included.
Chicago Tribune April 8, 1893
CYCLORAMA BUILDING IN RUINS.
Another Structure Near the Fair Gives Way to the Wind—Escapes.
Just after 12 o clock another flimsy affair surrendered to the force of only a medium wind, and is now a mass of ruins. It was a frame structure of circular form, fifty-four feet high and 128 feet in diameter, being erected for the purpose of exhibiting a panorama of the Battle of Chattanooga. About fifty workmen were engaged in the construction, but one of them bad just to dinner, and thus escaped unharmed. A few who were in thle building also escaped.
In falling part of the north wall fell upon a one-story frame next north, breaking part of the roof and south wall, damaging it about $75. George Collins was the contractor, and the building was worth about $1,200. It stood on the east side of Stony Island avenue a short distance south ot Pifty-seventh street.
Part of the front wall fell out into the street, breaking down sixty wires of the telephone and city fire alarm service. Men were at once sent for and the break in the wires was repaired before dark. The broken wires caused great inconvenience to persons south of there, cutting off all communication with the city.
Had the accident occurred fifteen sooner there would have been great loss of life, as many of the workmen were upon the roof of the dome-shaped structure, and would have met almost certain death. The building is a wreck, and most of the material is broken and destroyed.
A southwest wind was blowing at the time and those of the workmen who were eating their dinners in that of the were suddenly startled by the cracking sounds which the walls gave forth under the wind’s pressure. They hastily abandoned their position and their meal in the northwest corner, when suddenly the section they had just deserted, fell in. Among their number was a man who sat on a pile of boards eating a box of sardines. As the first side of the building fell his comrades dashed for the exit on the northeast corner, but the intrepid workman said he guessed he was as safe where he was as anywhere else and remained at his post inside the building. By a lucky coincidence the two walls at the intersection of which he sat fell outward and the workman walked forth from the debris unscathed.
In the days before motion pictures, cycloramas (each a giant mural running along the interior wall of a cylindrical room) were a popular form of entertainment. The Fire Cyclorama measured nearly 50 feet high by about 400 feet long and occupied its own building on Michigan Avenue, between Madison and Monroe Streets. In thrilling fashion, the enormous tableau depicted the events of October 8 to 10, 1871.
Fortunately an oil painting study created by the same team that produced the actual Cyclorama was preserved as it was recently discovered sitting, uncatalogued, in the Chicago History Museum archives. The painting, measured four feet high by forty feet long and contained scenes such as Panic at the Rush Street Bridge, Escaping to the River and Burning of the Old United States Marine Hospital. The study was made to 1/10 scale.
Chicago Tribune, April 7, 1892
PRONOUNCED IT AN ARTISTIC SUCCESS.
The Opening Reception of the Cyclorama of the Chicago Fire.
The opening reception of the Cyclorama of the Chicago Fire was given yesterday afternoon on the central platform in the Cyclorama Building, No. 130 Michigan avenue. After an address of welcome and some explanation of the manner in which the great painting was made, and what it comprised, by Howard Goss, the President of the Cyclorama company, Prof. David Swing made a few remarks commending the naturalness and truthfulness with the some scene is depicted, and giving an account of some amusing incidents in his own experience at the time of the great conflagration. Mrs. Alice Demeres Bennis sang two selections and responded to an encore. One of them was George F. Root’s ballad, “As Ye Have Done It Unti Me,” which relates the story of the fire and the assistance rendered to Chicago by other cities. Mrs. Anna D. Spence recited Will Carleton’s poem, “The Burning of Chicago.” Bishop Fallows then followed with a short address, relating his experiences during and after the fire and congratulating the city upon having the most remarkable event in its history so admirably commemorated. Among the 500 or more guests present were many of the oldest and best known citizens of Chicago, most of whom witnessed the fire. These commended the accuracy with which landmarks, once familiar to them, are portrayed, and all were able to pronounce it an artistic success.
Chicago Fire Cyclorama
Scene The First
Chicago Fire Cyclorama
Scene The Second
Chicago Fire Cyclorama
Scene The Third
Panic at the Rush Street Bridge
Chicago Fire Cyclorama
Scene The Fourth
Escaping to the River
Chicago Fire Cyclorama
Scene The Fifth
Advertisement for Chicago Fire Cyclorama
Chicago Daily Tribune
September 17, 1893
Chicago Tribune, April 19, 1913
The old cyclorama of the Chicago fire, viewed by thousands of visitors to the world’s fair in 1893 and which cost $150,000 to paint and set-up, was yesterday sold to a junk dealer for $2. The canvas, which weighed eight tons, has lain for many years in a box on a lot at 6001 Indiana avenue.
H. H. Gross, a former member of the board of education, was the owner and producer of the picture. It was first shown in the spring of 1893 in a round building which stood on the present site of the Chicago Athletic association clubhouse. It was on exhibition about one year.
Eight artists spent one year in painting it. Its dimensions were forty-seven feet high and 378 feet long. Among the artists who came to Chicago and worked on the picture were Mege, Corwin, Wilhelmi, Austin, Grover, Collins, and Peraud, About it $15,000 worth of silhouettes used in the building during the exhibition of the painting were destroyed.
Chicago Tribune August 16, 1894
A cyclorama of the Court of Honor and other World’d Fair views will be on exhibition at the Chicago Fire Cyclorama building several clays next week. The of scheme reproducing the Scenes is the invention of B. F. Chase. No. 6647 Yale avenue, an expert in photography. Mr. Chase says he can reproduce any complete horizon view in nature’s colors. The invention embraces the idea of a photographic cyclorama, using a battery of ten stereopticons to project on a blank circular wall any picture or series of pictures In the nature of consecutive views. By the aid of the battery of stereopticons a connected can be made from films, and so arranged that the spectator has the same scene spread before him in as if he stood in the position of the camera when the negative was taken.
The exhibition next week will be in the nature of an experiment and test of the invention. Although there been already several private demonstrations of the success of the scheme, the present trial, it is said, will be of such a nature as to determine whether or not the Dlan will be successful on a large scale. If the test Is as satisfactory as the inventor and his friends predict scheme may supplant that of painting a panorama of the Fair. The views may be changed at will and instantaneously.
The invention is simple enough and the cost but nominal in comparison with that of painting in oils a picture several hundred feet in length such as are used in cycloramas. The principal item in the east would be the remodeling of an ordinary panorama building. To secure the proper perspective and improve the foreground the walls of the interior of the building should be spherical in form like the interior of a globe. For experimental purposes a perpendicular wall will be used. It will be hung with white canvas and from above by black hangings. Tho operating room stands in the center, under which a platform is for the spectators. The ten stereopticons are arranged in a circle about the operating room and the lenses focused equally on the circular canvas-covered wall. By tho aid of an automatic electric apparatus the views may be made to change at regular intervals. Dissolving views may be used. Electric light and moonlight effects are easily given and the reproduction made as lifelike as possible.
The present test or demonstration is on a much smaller scale than the plans for the perfected and elaborated plant which Mr. Chase expects to build. The exhibition will take place Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Invitations will be issued to prominent men and those interested in perpetuating views of the World’s Fair.
The Chicago Fie Cyclorama was produced by The Simeon W.King Panorama Company. About 144,000 people attended the Cyclorama annually. After the exhibit closed, the canvas was stored on a warehouse on South Indiana Avenue then was sold to a junk dealer for $2.00 in 1913.