Friday, August 31, 2018

Restored coat back on display at school

What a long, strange trip it's been for Gloucester High School's once decaying Civil War era-coat. Now restored to its tailored, but still historically tattered Confederate gray self, it hangs handsomely ensconced in a museum-quality 3-D casing in a new place of honor in the Massachusetts school's atrium. The coat, which for decades had been displayed in a glass trophy case in the halls of the high school, was once owned by Albert W. Bacheler, a celebrated Civil War veteran who served as the school’s principal from 1883 to 1913. • Article

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

For $500K, and agreeing to protect historic features, a Civil War-era depot made famous by Great Locomotive Chase can be yours

The depot is the oldest commercial building in Dalton
Transaction window (Georgia Trust for Historic Prerservation)

A northwest Georgia city hopes a reinvigorated downtown, economic incentives and potential tax breaks will entice bids for a railroad depot that played a part in the Civil War’s “Great Locomotive Chase.”

Dalton officials have contracted with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation to market the old Western & Atlantic depot at 110 Depot St. The structure, built in 1852, has a suggested price of $500,000.

The Dalton Depot -- which needs extensive work inside -- had its moment of fame on April 12, 1862, when Northern raiders who had commandeered the locomotive General in Big Shanty, above Atlanta, were chugging toward Chattanooga, Tenn., intent on destroying parts of the railroad.

The pursuing locomotive Texas picked up a 17-year-old telegraph operator who rushed to the Dalton depot and wired Confederate troops ahead in Chattanooga. Although not all his message got through, Edward Henderson’s alarm sent troops toward the track. The Andrews Raiders were captured near Ringgold when the General ran out of steam. They had accomplished little.

Ben Sutton, historic properties coordinator for the trust, told the Picket, “There are plenty of preservation-minded property owners that recognize the intrinsic value of buildings like this.”

The 12,100-square-foot brick building was “a pretty high-style example of Georgia depot architecture” and has Greek Revival features. It features stone lintels, brick pilasters and door entablatures.

The depot is the oldest commercial building in the city and once provided passenger and freight service.

The trust is marketing the building through its revolving fund, which it says provides alternatives to demolition or neglect of a historically important property. The space could be divided for office, commercial or restaurant use, including a coffee house or microbrewery.

Building needs a lot of TLC

(Photos courtesy of Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation)

The depot has had some hard times since its heyday. A 1977 nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places (which was awarded) said Dalton citizens were aware of its value but “concerned about the deterioration of the building.” At that time, it was being leased to a railroad.

According to the nomination form, “the depot might have been partially destroyed when Union troops entered Dalton and set fire to several buildings in 1862. It appears that the essential structure of the depot was not damaged and the restoration was confined to roof and interior repair. Since the ornamental brackets are stylistically later than the date of the rest of the building, it is likely that they replaced others lost in the destruction.”

The city-owned building later housed a tavern for about 25 years, but city officials closed the building in late 2015, citing conditions that “posed potential health hazards to the public,” including mold, according to the Daily Citizen-News newspaper.

A freight scale remains in area that once was a restaurant

Dalton put the building up for bid in 2017, but got no offers. According to the newspaper, a potential investor earlier this year said renovation could cost between $600,000 and $1 million.

Sutton says the building is pretty intact and its southern end retains features interior ticket windows and the depot features an old freight scale.

“There is deferred maintenance.” All systems, including sprinklers and HVAC, need upgrading. “There are plenty of worse-off buildings people will invest in,” Sutton said.

Depot office on south end of the building (Ga. Trust)

The city is requiring bidders to submit a written preservation plan and abide by a signed rehabilitation agreement. “They want to make sure its history is understood, appreciated and protected,” said Sutton. “Based on that (plan) we can tell if they are going to be treating the building appropriately.”

Trust wants to administer easement

The trust hopes a buyer donates a conservation easement so that the group can ensure historical features are protected and conduct an annual inspection.

Donation of an easement has tax advantages, said Sutton, and a buyer can be eligible for federal and state income tax credits through a certified rehabilitation of a National Register property.

View from the tracks in the 1970s (National Park Service)

A potential investor earlier this year was concerned about the easement, according to the Daily Citizen-News, but changes were made so that the trust, rather than city officials, would manage the easement terms.

John Davis, a member of the board of the Downtown Dalton Development Authority, told the newspaper: "Getting people downtown is important, and the depot is very much a part of downtown. It was a very thriving part of downtown for a long time, and we'd love to see it get back to that."

View of the west facade (Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation)

A property tour for potential buyers is set for Sept. 6. Bids will be opened on Sept. 17. The city reserves the right not to accept any bid, officials said.

Until then, Sutton says, the trust hopes a potential buyer thinks “pretty creatively about the space.”

(Photos: Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Remembering the boys of Maine's 5th and 8th: On Peaks Island near Portland, you can visit their summer retreats, spend the night at one

Guests can rent rooms at the 8th Maine lodge and museum
... where veterans met more than a century ago (8th Maine OL&M)
Striking windows at the 5th Maine Regiment Museum (Picket)

From wrap-around porches or chairs perched on back lawns, the graying veterans of two Maine infantry regiments could see or hear all manner of water craft plying Casco Bay.

There were the lobstermen, or couples out for a leisurely sail. During the summer, ferries brought throngs of passengers who might stay the week on Peaks Island, just a few miles east of Portland.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Peaks Island was a draw, too, for a number of Civil War veterans, who would enjoy clam bakes, suppers and poetry readings with their families. They built clapboard retreats, two of which survive – the 5th Maine Regiment Museum (1888) and 8th Maine Oceanfront Lodge & Museum (1891).

While they enjoyed the natural beauty and the island’s many attractions, including the Gem Theatre, gardens and a Ferris wheel (Peaks was called the Coney Island of Maine), these men mostly came to spend time with their comrades – those who understood what they had endured.

Gem Theatre and one of many piers on the island (Maine Historical Society)

They would reminisce about the bloodbaths at Drewry’s Bluff, Antietam, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor or the Wilderness. Some, no doubt, suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Today, visitors to Peaks Island can stop by both Queen Anne-style sanctuaries, which feature three-story observation towers that rise like sentinels.

Relic at the 5th Maine
The 5th Maine Museum is operated by a nonprofit group that showcases the unit’s history, relics and other prize possessions. The building also serves as an island community and cultural center, offering music, art and photography shows and exhibits on other facets of the island’s past.

While the 5th Maine association counts a few descendants, the 8th Maine, just 100 yards away, is operated by lineal descendants, a situation it calls unique.

Visitors to the island can delve into the regiment’s history and rent rustic rooms that -- while lacking air conditioning and television sets – offer coziness and simplicity during the tourist season, which lasts generally from Memorial Day into September.

“What we tell people who have never been here before … I want you to understand when you step over the threshold you are stepping back to 1900,” says Bill Hackett, 8th Maine lodge manager and descendant of Sgt. Lorenzo W. Hackett.

5th Maine veterans, families in 1912 (5th Maine Regiment Museum)
A doscent provides a tour of the 5th Maine main hall (Picket photo)

5th Maine Regiment Museum

Known as the Forest City Regiment, the 5th had three companies from Portland and served in 22 battles, from First Manassas to Petersburg, mustering out in July 1864.

“The Fifth was known as one of Maine’s fighting regiments,” says the museum’s website. “It captured more prisoners than the number of men who served in the regiment and three times the number of battle flags than any other Maine regiment captured.”

5th Maine front yard (Picket photo)
The veterans began holding reunions elsewhere shortly after war’s end and participants would stay in tents. A perhaps apocryphal story holds that wives and children became tired of camping and demanded a building, says museum curator Holly Hurd-Forsyth.

“Some were farmers, businessmen and Bowdoin graduates,” she said of the veterans. “There must have been some means and motivation. Building a permanent structure was a pretty rare thing to do.”

The 5th Maine Regiment Memorial Hall held its first reunion on July 4, 1888, and the meetings continued until 1940 (By then, most of the soldiers had died and activities were organized by descendants). The annual reunions had a military air, with rules and regulations.

The regiment formed a memorial association, required dues and members rented 15 “sleeping rooms”; proceeds went for maintenance and operations. A cot might go for 50 cents a night. The room at the top of tower went for $9 a week.

Picket photo of porch overlooking Casco Bay

Windows in the main hall remain the building’s most striking feature. My wife and I visited this summer, and gazed upon the hand-blown flash glass engraved with the names of soldiers serving in the unit. The purchase of the windows was another way the men funded the lodge’s upkeep.

The Sixth Corps’ red-cross insignia is painted above the doors. The hall includes memorabilia and relics from battlefields in the South.

An upstairs view (Picket photo)
The hall went through some challenges as soldiers died and descendants increasingly jumped into cars -- rather than a ferry -- and vacationed elsewhere. The association began renting out rooms. “Their families didn’t have the strong ties they used to. Peaks Island itself was not as much as a destination,” said Hurd-Forsyth.

Fires during the 1930s destroyed many vacation properties and venues on the island. The room rentals at the 5th Maine ended in 1947.

The all-volunteer 5th Maine Regiment Community Association has operated the building since 1954 and rents out space, including its downstairs dining room. Programming includes Civil War talks, and musical and arts programs. Keeping up the grounds and building are priorities, and the museum hopes to repair and reopen the observation tower.

Dining area downstairs (5th Maine)
Peaks Island is a popular day trip for Portland visitors and about 900 residents live there year-round, embracing the isolation brought by winter. More than 5,100 people visited the museum during last year’s season. The venue will close this year on Columbus Day, Oct. 8.

David Johnston, who lives in New Hampshire and has a place on the island, can often be seen at the 5th Maine Museum.

“Having salt in my veins, I go there all the time on the weekends and volunteer at the pancake breakfast,” he told the Picket. “(Other breakfast volunteers) think it is really cool that I have blood ties to the establishment.”

Lt. Dexter
His great-great-grandfather, Lt. Charles B. Dexter, served in Company A and was active after the war in the Grand Army of the Republic. Dexter died in Norwood, Mass, in 1914, at age 76.

Memorial hall includes a photograph of Dexter and other 5th Maine veterans.

“They volunteered. It wasn’t a draft. It is standing up and believing in what you think is the right choice,” said Johnston.

8th Maine Oceanfront Lodge & Museum

Old-timey living is alive and encouraged at the lodge, which rents rooms to the public from mid-June into September. Along with their stay, guests can learn about the rich history of the Maine regiment.

The rentals cover much of the maintenance for the old building – replacing the roof, for example, may cost $70,000. Guests share bathrooms, jigsaw puzzles, ping pong table and other amenities. Rates for the 14 rooms start at $109 an evening. There are no TVs sets or AC, but fans help on the warmest days.

A $129 a night room with a view (8th Maine OL&M photos)
And a dining area below the main floor

“Yes, we do have Wi-Fi. We couldn’t survive without it,” says Dawn Hackett, guest host and wife of Bill Hackett. The couple lives in York, Maine, during the offseason.

The communal spirit at the Peaks Island lodge extends to dining downstairs. Every table has a two-burner gas cook top.

“Traditionally, the 8th Maine veterans, when they stayed at the lodge would always share meals. After each meal, each soldier family would reset their table,” says the museum’s website. “The message to each other was clear and emotional; we will be back and we will not forget. The 8th Maine staff encourages all its guests to continue that practice if they cook or use our dishes.”

8th veterans swap stories back in the day 

Of course, the descendants association stresses the regiment’s history and sacrifice made by its members. A large, open hall showcases that and the building includes artifacts and a library. Participants in a daily tour will see emblems for the 18th and 24th Corps, under which the 8th Maine boys served.

Most of the men who enlisted in the regiment were from upstate. The unit drew from Aroostook and Piscataquis counties and Penobscot. “Anything north of Bangor is Canada,” quipped Bill Hackett.

The 8th served in the Carolinas, Georgia (Fort Pulaski) and at Petersburg and Cold Harbor in Virginia, among other campaigns and battles.

Courtesy of 8th Maine OL&M

Although the regimental association goes back to 1871, its big boost came after Col. William M. MacArthur won $75,000 in the 1885 Louisiana State Lottery. He used some of the winnings to buy property on Peaks Island and build the 8th Maine memorial lodge, which opened in 1891 as a regimental meeting place and vacation spot.

“It was quite the scam, but someone did benefit – the 8th Maine,” Dawn Hackett says of the lottery.

Lorenzo Hackett
Sgt. Lorenzo W. Hackett was one of five brothers to serve in the Civil War.

“Lorenzo was a color bearer. That puts him up right and center in his company wherever they went,” said Bill Hackett. “He never got shot in the entire war. He got hit in the backpack with a Minie ball that spun him around.”

The soldier was taken prisoner and was exchanged later in the war.

For years, the veterans of the 8th Maine slept on the floor in the main hall, or elsewhere in the building. As they died off, the association began renting rooms to the public in the mid-1920s.

Today, the descendants group – which allows members to join at age 16 – holds an annual reunion in June. The association also welcomes birthday parties, weddings and other community events. The last nights for guests this year is Sept. 22.

Relics in the great hall (8th Maine OL&M)
Belfast Historical Society via Maine Memory Network

The lodge wants guests to enjoy the veranda and everything inside, including the Civil War history. A recent review on TripAdvisor captured the appeal, at least for some.

On the water, with a killer balcony to read, write or take in the salt air. The lodge is an old time-y wood lodge that yanked me back to my childhood in Maine. If you need all the high end comforts or a lot of TLC give this place a miss. If you want to dial down the stress and enjoy life before it went off the can't go wrong.”

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Behind-the-scenes tour of the Atlanta Cyclorama: Restoration gives painting new life; exhibits will tell a broader story than old days

Tour participants take in mural details before diorama is installed in foreground.
Escalator leads to viewing platform (Picket photos)

Gordon Jones believes the Atlanta Cyclorama – a giant, round painting created more than 130 years ago – has been kept in a box for far too long.

Once its restoration is complete, the mural of the July 1864 Battle of Atlanta, coupled with the Confederate locomotive Texas, will have something fresh and new to tell, says the senior military historian at the Atlanta History Center.

“The perception with both of these artifacts was you thought it was the greatest thing in the world … or you hated it because it was a bunch of white guys and dead horses.”

Jones, who is co-leader of the Cyclorama project team, said the opening of the 1886 painting and associated exhibits at the AHC in February 2019 is a chance for the institution to shed any vestige of being “your old grandfather’s museum.”

The exhibits, Jones says, can be a teaching tool about why the Civil War is still relevant, by telling the city’s story through a variety of wartime narratives – from Confederate and Union veterans, to white Atlanta residents and enslaved persons – and bringing that forward to civil rights and the discussion today about the conflict’s ramifications and symbolism. To that end, the AHC has consulted with more than a dozen experts.

A team of artists will finish their work on the painting soon, and the results are very impressive. The work has been cleaned, some areas repainted and colors are vibrant. The installation of the companion diorama in the foreground begins next month.

I recently took part in a behind-the-scenes tour of the cyclorama and locomotive Texas held each Saturday. (You will notice in my photographs a plastic covering over much of the mural. The sheets were temporarily placed to protect the battle scene from any blue paint dripping from the sky area). 

I spoke with Jones by phone after the tour to get his perspective on both the restoration effort and how this mammoth piece of Atlanta history will be portrayed.

1886 photographs a godsend

It’s difficult to overstate the value of photographs taken while the cyclorama – which documented a crucial moment in the Union victory -- was being completed in Milwaukee in summer 1886. They’ve been a guide for artists matching what the original artists wanted to convey to patrons.

Well-intentioned restoration efforts at the painting’s former longtime home at the city’s Grant Park sometimes came up short and altered certain scenes or figures. (The cyclorama was closed in summer 2015 and moved in early 2017 to the AHC.)

“The more you study the 1886 photographs the more you see that what was there originally was more artistically rendered than what came after,” said Jones.

The history center last year found a second set of photographs (taken in July 1886) in the collection of the Milwaukee County Historical Society. “You can see that they have made some corrections (in the painting) since the set of photographs taken 30 days earlier,” Jones said.

Photographs have aided restoration work
Detail of the Federal counterattack

The second set of photographs is the gold standard for work on the mural, said Jones. Copies of the photos, which focus on specific sections of the battle, are attached to cardboard mounts on the viewing platform at the AHC. Of course, artists can zoom in on details of images stored on computers.

The team has removed yellowing varnish, cleaned the Belgian linen (which has a backing) and repainted several areas or made repairs. They’re also adding an archival-grade varnish to the surface.

“Most of this is repair work because of the damage over the years, including water damage, some damage from being embedded in actual soil, dirt with the diorama. Some of the figures closest to the bottom of the painting … they were heavily repainted,” said Jones.

“When you go back to the 1886 photographs… you can see one arm completely (was since) put into a different position.”

That glorious pale blue sky

Two vertical sections of the canvas trimmed in 1921 so that it could fit in the Grant Park building have been repainted. And 7 feet of sky has been added to the top of the cylindrical painting, which weighs between four and five tons. The top of the sky had been lopped off little by little during its first three decades.


One has to recognize that cycloramas were a commercial venture – forerunners to movies -- and their owners moved them from town to town, as did the Atlanta Cyclorama. Sometimes, the canvas would be trimmed to fit into a particular building or there would be damage to the canvas.

At Grant Park, the Atlanta Cyclorama’s sky was much more contained than what it looks like now. “It had eliminated the sense of distance the sky was supposed to give you -- that disappearing line, the vanishing perspective,” Jones told the Picket.

In 1922, the sky was repainted to hide water damage and “new” clouds also covered stains. The sky appeared flat and was the wrong color, evident when this team of restorers worked their way down to the original paint.

“It was more of a swimming pool green,” said Jones. “What we have now is both described in contemporary accounts … and also, most importantly, the paint evidence. The paint on the canvas we were able to drill down and find, our conservators indicated is a pale blue color, almost a gray color.”

Those taking behind-the-scenes tours this year of the restoration get a real sense of the enormity of the sky, which almost dwarfs the combat scene below. But not to worry: A canopy will drop from the ceiling, providing a tent-like effect that will appear to even things out a bit. “When you go to the rail, you will not see where the sky ends,” Jones said.

By the way, the painting during restoration went from 42 to 49 feet tall and 359 to 371 feet in circumference.

Plastic covering protects mural during sky work

Let there be (proper) light!

While the AHC has high praise for its contract artists, technology also is playing a huge part in the restoration.

“The (LED) lighting makes it look like a whole new painting. It is much brighter and vibrant than it ever was,” said Jones.

He laughs about getting a text message while he was in a meeting. A contractor asking what month was the battle? (July). What time for the scene? (4:45 p.m.)

Bingo! The lighting was set to match a hot July afternoon in 1864.

Diorama: Getting a new lease on life

A cyclorama is a panorama image intended to place the viewer in the middle of a scene. Often, dioramas are built in the foreground to provide additional realism.

Atlanta’s cyclorama received its current diorama during the mid-1930s. Some 128 plaster figures of soldiers, faux artillery and other pieces and natural elements, such as dirt and shrubs, were added.

Of course, there was a bit of a negative effect on the painting over time. Soil and other items discolored or stained the Belgian linen. AHC officials vow the restored cyclorama and diorama will be true to their intent, erasing criticism of how they looked a decade ago.

Weights give canvas hyperbolic shape

Kevin Riley, editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote in 2011 about his visit to Grant Park: “The Cyclorama looks tired -- from the seating, to the diorama to the painting itself,” Riley wrote. “Last weekend, I watched as a local restoration group did some annual maintenance work on the diorama, and it’s clear that the place has seen better days.”

Jones said the diorama 2.0 will be a bit larger than the Grant Park version, but people will see it from a different vantage point, a stage rather than a revolving platform. The stage is about 38 feet away from the painting and patrons will be able to use their smart phones to scan certain scenes and figures in the painting to access more information.

Patrons will enter the large room via a tunnel that is built under the diorama. They also will have a moment to look at the back of the painting to see how it is rigged and weighted to ensure its hyperbolic shape.

Installation of the diorama begins in September.

Artists have used these to attain exacting detail

So how will the painting be interpreted?

AHC officials told CNN last year that the work previously was interpreted in many ways, from extolling the emergence of the "New South" after the Civil War to the "Lost Cause" narrative, which proclaimed the conflict was more about states' rights than slavery.

The AHC entered the public debate over Confederate monuments after the church shooting in Charleston, S.C., and says interpretation of them must include why they were erected, often for white supremacy reasons.

Confederates near the Troup Hurt House

While the cyclorama shows Union troops blunting a Confederate assault at the Troup Hurt House, generations of Southerners looked at the painting as a symbol of their right to secede. For Northerners, the victory at Atlanta helped ensure the nation endured and slavery would end.

Not surprisingly, the politics and passion related to the Civil War remain.

“This is one of the best stories anyone has in the country,” Jones said of the battle. “This can be a teaching tool that helps everybody understand what was going on in the Civil War, the memory of that event, the narratives and (how that is) relevant to what is going on today.”

Locomotive Texas display will open in November

Stephen Davis, author of "What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman's Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta," told the Picket that the painting “is important as a lesson to all visitors that Atlanta has not destroyed or dismantled this depiction of Civil War history.”

He cited the removal of statues of Confederate leaders in Memphis, New Orleans and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he attended.

But Atlanta has essentially put this great historic painting onstage for the world to visit and has decided not to enshroud or to hide it -- at least not yet,” Davis said.

The first stop for the new wing of the AHC will be the Texas, the locomotive that successfully chased down the General during the Great Locomotive Chase in 1862. While, the Texas was painted in bright colors during its long stay at Grant Park, it was recently restored to its 1886 appearance, during the rapid postwar growth of the city.

The adjacent upper gallery will have an animated map of wartime Georgia. Visitors will use interactive kiosks to zoom in on Atlanta’s fortifications and streets. One exhibit will include a sword and revolver belonging to Union artillery Capt. Francis DeGress, whose battery held a critical part of the line on July 22, 1864, and is depicted prominently in the mural.

DeGress items currently on exhibit
Topics include the freedom for enslaved persons, the Lost Cause, the Union perspective, Reconstruction and reconciliation.

For the painting itself, a new sound-and-light production will be played once an hour. It will be an “enhancement, not an experience,” said Jones. The show will talk about how the painting and interpretation have changed over time.

People exiting the rotunda downstairs will learn more about the cyclorama’s history, advertising, its form of entertainment and other examples of linking art and the past.

Before movies and TV and color photography, the Cyclorama was the cat’s meow, said Jones.

The historian said he hopes visitors will leave the museum with new perspectives about the Civil War and its impact today.

“They can begin to think for themselves,” he said.

The last AHC painting/Texas tour is at 1 p.m. this Saturday. Cost is $50 for members, $75 for nonmembers. Details here