BR: How about some background on yourselves for the readers?
SB: I am a graduate of Danville Area High School (PA), Penn State-Geisinger School of Nursing and attended Bloomsburg University. After a twenty-three year nursing career, most of it in the ER at Sunbury Community Hospital, I moved to Gettysburg and achieved my Licensed Battlefield Guide License in 2001. I am proud to be a two-time recipient of the Superintendent’s Award for Excellence in Guiding. When the new visitor center was being built, I joined the staff of the Gettysburg Foundation to do research, locate artifacts for inclusion in the museum, and work with the conservation team, as a research historian, to restore the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama.
I have been an avid collector of Gettysburg images, mostly from the 19th century. My images of the four versions of the Gettysburg cyclorama proved to be especially useful during my work on that project.
CB: I am 44 years old, I am married to a very supportive wife, Laura, and we have a daughter, Mary, who is 3. I was born in York, PA and I lived in Newark, DE and Lancaster, PA before we moved to Fairfield, PA (just outside of Gettysburg) about 8 years ago. . I have a degree in Psychology from the University of Delaware. For many years after college, I ran a bowling center in York, Colony Park North. While I have had several different careers, history and the Civil War have always been my hobbies. My wife and I have visited most of the major battlefields on the east coast. I became a Licensed Battlefield Guide in 2010 after 5 years of study. As a guide, I have taken many different groups of people on tours of the battlefield at Gettysburg. I also work for the Gettysburg Foundation as the Assistant Manager of the Visitor’s Services department. As part of my job at the Foundation, I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours looking at the Gettysburg Cyclorama. My curiosity led me to try to identify every person, unit, or place pictured in the painting. After a few years I realized that I had a good portion of a book worth of material, which got me started on this project. Our new book is the first book I have ever written.
BD: I’m a native of Connecticut and relocated to the Gettysburg area in 1999 with my wife Lynn, where I pursued my interest in photography and Gettysburg history. My images have appeared in local, regional and national publications, textbooks, corporate publications and commercial advertising and book jacket covers.
BR: What got you interested in the study of history in general and the Civil War period in particular?
SB: I have always appreciated history as an avenue to discover who we are as a culture and how I fit in to it. I love to read works of non-fiction, especially biographies of historical figures. Learning about these people in the context of the times in which they lived has often inspired me to broaden my range. When I read a biography of Paul Tibbetts, who piloted the Enola Gay, I was deeply affected by the impact of the bombing on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and read as many personal accounts as I could find. After meeting Elie Wiesel and reading a biography about Simon Wiesenthal, I began to study Holocaust history. Again, it was the personal accounts that affected me the most. My interest in Gettysburg was also inspired by the human side of the story. I acquired a Civil War diary written by a man who lived in the same area that I did. His name was Michael Schroyer and he served in Co. G, 147th PA Volunteers. Schroyer and his story pulled me into Civil War history and I have never left! The license plate on my car reads “147th G”. I love the questions I get from people who don’t immediately recognize the meaning, and the knowing smiles and nods from those who do. Human connections are such a powerful way to experience history!
CB: As a young boy in the 70’s, my grandparents, Lois and Corky Brenneman used to bring me to Gettysburg several times every summer. We would see some of the sights and have a picnic. At that time I just loved to climb on the rocks and cannon and pretend to fight a mock battle with my wooden rifle. My parents also took me to many historic sights on our family vacations like Yorktown and Fort Sumter. In general, I have always loved history (colonial, W.W. II, medieval, roman times, etc..), especially the Civil War. After college I started reading more history books and as I read about Gettysburg, I could picture the various places from my childhood explorations. Besides trying to visit other battlefields, my wife and I would always be sure to go to Gettysburg a couple of times each year. After a while, we liked it so much that we decided to move into this area. I really have to thank my wife for being so supportive of me and my dreams. She helped me change carriers and relocate here to Gettysburg while I was studying for the Licensed Battlefield Guide exams.
BD: I visited Gettysburg when I was a young boy on a family vacation and was moved by the human drama of the events that unfolded on these lands.
BR: Gettysburg Cyclorama is really two books in one, (the story of the Cyclorama, and a tour using the painting as a guide.) Can you tell us about what you were responsible for, and what it contributes to the Gettysburg literature?
SB: I have a strong desire to know the back story about people, events and things in general. So my part of the book is the back story of cycloramas – the history of how cycloramas came to be such a big part of life in Victorian America, as well as who made them and how. Since the Gettysburg painting had not been displayed as a true cyclorama for many decades, I thought it was important to let readers know what a cyclorama was supposed to look like so they could fully appreciate the restored Cyclorama.
CB: My part of the book focused on everything that is in the painting. I tried to name every unit, individual, farm, or geographical feature that I could find. I used modern photographs of the painting that could be enlarged in order to see distant objects in extreme close-up. I then compared them to modern pictures of the terrain, maps, historic pictures, and the actual battlefield. The last ten chapters of the book are my analysis of the ten sections of the painting (based on the ten terrain photographs that the artist had taken in 1882). Another important resource were the historic keys to the painting. The key was a circular drawing that came with the historic souvenir programs in the 1800’s. Viewers of the 19th century would look at numbers on the circular drawing and the key would have descriptions of the various people and places. We knew that these keys were changed in different cities, presumably to market the painting to the local audience. Thanks to my partner Sue, who collects the historic programs, I had access to all of the historic keys. Nobody had ever tried to catalog every historic key (along with the modern keys from the 20th century) and identify exactly who was who and where. So I think our first contribution to the literature of Gettysburg is that we have thoroughly examined this painting for the first time and given it the treatment that such an important piece of history deserves. The analysis of the keys also is very interesting because it shows how the painting – and the Civil War – were viewed in the 1880’s and 90’s. Many of the people mentioned in the keys were more important in 1884 than they were in 1863.
BD: I was the principal photographer whose role it was to faithfully record, document, and accurately prepare the images for printing that supplemented the text.
BR: Can you describe how long it took to write your part, what the stumbling blocks were, what you discovered along the way that surprised you or went against the grain, what firmed up what you already knew?
SB: I had some basic knowledge about the Gettysburg Cycloramas because I had collected images and memorabilia in the years before it was restored. When the restoration project got underway around 2005, I was given the opportunity to share the images and provide research support. The chief conservator, David Olin, was very much aware of the historical significance of our cyclorama as an artifact but also as a historical document. He had done work for the Library of Congress and the National Archives, among other institutions, and recognized that integrity in restoring the content of the painting was paramount. Therefore, even the tiniest detail, such as a tree added to the canvas during a 1960s conservation, needed to be carefully researched, and removed when it was found to be not original to the painting. There were a number of these interesting challenges, each one requiring research to inform the final outcome. The biggest of these challenges was the need to restore 14 feet of missing sky which had been cut away before the painting came to Gettysburg in 1912. Although we had some historical documentation by Michael Jacobs, a professor of math and science at Pennsylvania College, as to what the cloud cover looked like that fateful third day of July, it was hard to put the words “a few white, fleecy cumulus clouds floating over from the west” onto canvas with a degree of certainty that it was being correctly interpreted. Then a stroke of absolute good fortune intervened to help us overcome this particular challenge. We found the original oil-on-canvas scaled study made for the purpose of informing the larger work! I had been sent by the museum design team to look at some artifacts at the Chicago History Museum for possible use in our new exhibits and while there, I found the studies among the general collections. I will never forget how exciting it was to bring back digital copies of those studies! Needless to say, our beautiful cyclorama sky is historically correct.
The biggest surprise for me in researching the Gettysburg Cycloramas was discovering that there were more of them than Philippotaux’s original four. Once I was able to establish that there were others – all copies of Philippoteaux’s work, known as ‘buckeyes’ – it became clear that the Gettysburg Cyclorama stored at Wake Forest University was not the original Chicago version as it has been purported to be, although it was shown in Chicago at the 1933 World’s Fair. I am still getting calls from individuals asking me to prove it which I happily do.
CB: The entire process of writing, getting it published, editing, and lay-out took almost five years. The layout and editing were extremely time-consuming for such a complicated book with so many pictures (over 400). You also forget about things like sources and captions, which also take a lot of time. As a new author, much of the process was new to me. Luckily, the staff at Savas Beatie were extremely helpful with some of the more complicated issues.
During the process of examining the painting, I made a really fascinating discovery. With the help of a few of my co-workers at the Gettysburg Foundation, we realized that several areas of the painting had been changed. With some detective work I eventually discovered that the changes were made in 1889. The artists added extra troops, flags, cannon, and even General Meade. Over the years, it had been forgotten that these changes ever happened. Some more investigation helped me to discover that it was the suggestions from the veterans of the battle that led to these modifications being made to the painting.
BR: Can you describe your research and writing process?
SB: I love to research but tend to get bored when I don’t find anything new after a lengthy period of time. However, it only takes the discovery of one elusive little tidbit to get me re-energized and back on the hunt. Early on in my cyclorama research, it seemed as if there was nowhere to go to find cyclorama related information. In the larger scope of Victorian life in America, the cyclorama phenomenon lasted barely a decade before giving way to motion pictures, thereby limiting the quantity of documentation able to be amassed for future reference. Eventually, the isolated tidbits of information I was able to find began to connect and lead to other sources. As the project was getting underway, a visit by participants of the International Panorama Conference offered a wonderful opportunity to network with other researchers and scholars. Two of these individuals, Suzanne Wray of New York City and Chicagoan Gene Meiers, often sent research notes they encountered while doing research for their own projects. This proved invaluable since two of Philippoteaux’s Gettysburg cycloramas were located in those cities. The park archive at Gettysburg has a decent amount of information but it was unorganized until Museum Technician Beth Trescott put it in useful order. Much of it was amassed by Alfred Mongin, a park historian who began to research Gettysburg Cycloramas in 1933 in anticipation of the park acquiring the painting from private hands. Mongin’s work was laborious, consisting of numerous form letters mailed to museums across the country. He meticulously followed up on leads from respondents but seemed to struggle to fit the pieces together. He also conducted lengthy interviews with people who had personal connections to the world of cyclorama exhibitions. My favorite one of these was Mongin’s interview, in 1942, with Charles Cobean, who had served as manager for the painting from 1918 until 1942, the year it was acquired by the National Park Service. Cobean met Philippoteaux during the artist’s visit to Gettysburg sometime before 1920 and remembered the artist telling him that the dog in the painting was his own pet.
The writing process for me is always more difficult than the research. I tend to write like I speak (I am Pennsylvania Dutch!) so there is an ongoing need to tweak, review and repeat a number of times before the work becomes reader-ready, or at least, ready for an editor.
CB: The first part of the process came from having spent many hundreds of hours inside the Cyclorama looking at the various details and answering visitor’s questions while doing my day job for the Gettysburg Foundation. I would then compare the view with the same views on the battlefield today. Thanks to the tree cutting that has been done in the last 20 years by the park, the views today are very similar to the historic pictures that the artist used to create the painting. In order to answer questions from my co-workers and the visitors, I started adding to the modern key more and more items that I could identify. I also designed a tour of the battlefield that visited all the places that you could see in the cyclorama. Eventually, I realized that I had enough material for a book about the painting. I had been a big admirer of Sue’s first book about the Cyclorama, but I knew that she had made several new discoveries about the history of the painting. I also thought that a larger book with hundreds of close-ups was needed to do the cyclorama justice in book form. I approached Sue and said that we could combine our efforts and write one comprehensive book that covered every known aspect of the painting and its history.
As far as sources are concerned, I used the historic keys and pictures of the painting from Sue’s collection to compare every key to both the modern painting and the pictures of the 4 different versions painted by Paul Philippoteaux. I also read through all of the files on the cyclorama at the Gettysburg National Military Park. The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies and my own personal collection of maps and books on various subjects were relied heavily upon. My colleagues in the Licensed Battlefield Guides were extremely helpful in answering many of my questions. I was also assisted by many of the park rangers at Gettysburg, and the Adams County Historical Society.
BR: The book’s design is bold. Can you describe how that was conceived and evolved?
SB: The inspiration for the book’s layout stems from the diagrammatic keys that accompanied the souvenir programs which were unique for each version of the painting. They changed to cater to the interests of each new target audience, and reflected ongoing input from veterans. Co-author Chris Brenneman, who spends considerable time on the platform in the course of his work, was inspired to find out how many of the faces looking back at him from the canvas had unique identities. Such a concept required good quality images, and lots of them. That’s how Bill Dowling, a professional photographer as well as a Licensed Battlefield Guide, was brought into the project.
CB: I came up with the layout as I was writing, knowing that it was going to be a very visual book. The first thing we did was rent a scissor lift and re-create the 1882 terrain photographs that the artist used to make the painting. Then, during the writing, I had a large digital picture of the entire cyclorama. I used this large image to focus in on specific areas and crop out the areas that I was discussing. At the same time, I used Microsoft Publisher to make a crude layout of which pictures went with what text. I gave this layout to Bill Dowling so he would know exactly which close-up shots I needed him to take. Bill did a tremendous job, and even the shots of objects in the extreme distance are very clear. I knew that this was very important, to have high-quality images, or else the whole book would not have the desired effect on the reader.
When the book got to the publisher, I made a mock-layout of the first 3 chapters to help the publisher envision what I had mapped out. I also gave them the crude mock-up of the last 12 chapters that I had made while I was writing the book. I really have to thank the layout specialist who worked for Savas Beatie, Ian Hughes from England. He did a tremendous job following my sometimes extremely complicated plans. Ian also used his skill to make everything fit together and flow really well. One of the biggest challenges was getting everything to fit in the space allotted. Ian did a tremendous job and we did not have to cut out any of the pictures (we did reduce a few in size, but out of 400+ pictures, that is not bad at all).
BR: Bill, can you describe your photographic process, and basically what you had to consider producing the required images?
BD: The manuscript authors, Sue and Chris, spent countless hours of research, writing, editing and fact checking to ensure that the, development, creation, preservation and history of this “American Treasure” that we know as the Gettysburg Cyclorama was accurately told. I owed it to them, to the people who would purchase this book, to myself, and primarily to Mr. Paul Philippoteaux and his team of artisans to ensure that the images I recorded were clear, sharp and color balanced. Initial interest in a book is dependent on its subject matter. With a book containing hundreds of photographs that illustrate and explain the words of the writers the images take on a more meaningful role – especially if what is being illustrated in an iconic work of art. Many inter-dependent factors need to be considered and balanced to produce a worthy image. Lighting – its source, color temperature, intensity and direction is of primary importance. The human eye and brain work flawlessly to instantaneously compensate for these variations – a camera lens cannot. These variations need to be addressed and adjusted, if required, in the photographers editing processing. Image size, clarity, exposure time, aperture setting, depth of field, resolution measured in pixels per inch (ppi) are still more variables that require attention if a tack sharp image is to be reproduced. All competent photographers must deal with these laws of optics before and after the shutter button in pushed.
All of this work is for naught unless the publisher is committed to producing a quality product. Ted Savas and Savas Beatie Publishing were certainly invested in this project for which we are very grateful. The Savas Beatie staff and Ian Hughes combined the manuscript and
images into its final eye pleasing form which was faithfully reproduced by the printers.
Some people may never have the opportunity to visit the Gettysburg Cyclorama. Perhaps with this book they can examine Paul Philippoteaux’s interpretation of one of the most dramatic events in all of United States military history – Pickett’s Charge – in the comfort of their favorite easy chair.
My favorite image is the overhead shot of the Cyclorama taken from the catwalk above the painting. This perspective is one that few people have the opportunity to see first hand.
I hope I did justice to the people who produced The Tuning Point of the Civil War on Canvas.
Examples of my photography can be viewed on my web site: http://www.dowlingphoto.com
BR: Sue and Chris, what’s next for you?
SB: Since 1991, I have been researching the men in Co. G, 147th Pennsylvania Volunteers. The first item on my bucket list is to publish their story. Meanwhile, I am excited to be able to watch the restoration of the Atlanta Cyclorama currently underway. It is truly wonderful that soon, history buffs will be able to see two beautifully restored Civil War cycloramas!
CB: I do not know what is next for me. When it comes to books about Gettysburg, there are many books about every conceivable part of the battle. I felt lucky to find a subject that did not have a book (or dozens of books) written about it. I hope that this book will be the definitive book about the cyclorama for many years to come. Unless some amazing discovery is made about the painting (like if someone finds a Philippoteaux diary), there is not much more to uncover about the Gettysburg Cyclorama. For now, I will be quite content to spend time with my wife and daughter, give visitors tours of the battlefield, and work for the Gettysburg Foundation. Maybe someday I will travel the world and try to write a complete book documenting all the cycloramas in the world, but for now I am quite happy here in Gettysburg.