Today we’re going to dive right in with entertainment. Like everything else in the Chicago of the 1880s, entertainment was on the up and up. Theatres were being built, eating out was on the rise for those that could afford it, and for those that couldn’t a trip to the lakeshore or the zoo was a great way to enjoy what little time you had off work for free.
One of the entertainments that I used in the diamondanddoranmysteries was called a cyclorama. When I started researching places where two of my characters could have an interesting day out I came across the cyclorama. At first I figured I’d have to put them on bicycles to have them enjoy their day, but it turned out that a cyclorama has nothing to do with bicycles at all, unless it’s to ride to the round building that houses a panoramic image on the inside of a cylindrical platform. The idea is that the image, in the 1880’s a painting, is mounted inside the round building and designed to give viewers standing in the middle of the structure a 360° view of the painting. In my book the image is of the Battle of Gettysburg. A battle one of the characters viewing it actually fought in.
These buildings were found in many major cities like Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Kansas City, even Paris and Tokyo. The cyclorama was invented by Robert Barker who was an Irish painter. He wanted somewhere to exhibit the view from an Edinburgh beauty spot called Calton Hill. Finding nowhere suitable he opened his own cyclorama in 1787.
The idea took off and painters were commissioned to paint the most exciting and often cataclysmic events of the times, like the battles from the American Civil War. In December 1889 the Battle of Gettysburg exhibition arrived in my hometown of Toronto. Newspaper reporters called it, “without exception, the grandest picture that has been exhibited in this city.” With the additions of wooden fences, foliage, canons and guns to make the whole scene seem more immersive, the Battle of Gettysburg exhibit was intended to make the battle come alive for those who viewed it. The Daily Mail of the day gave this glowing review: “It is a wild weird picture, which makes the blood of the spectator pulsate quicker through his veins, and a picture which when once seen can never be forgotten.”
Next week we’re off to the zoo.
Until next time, happy reading.