GETTYSBURG -- It's not easy to clean a painting that is 377 feet long and weighs more than 12 tons, but Gettysburg National Military Park Museum officials are tackling it during January.
And they're inviting people to watch.
The 42-foot-high painting, called the Cyclorama, "depicts the fury and chaos of Pickett's charge," the bloody attack led by Confederate Gen. George Pickett during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, said Cindy Small, communications manager for the Gettysburg Foundation.
Pickett's famous but unsuccessful charge, in which many Southern troops were killed by Union forces protected atop nearby hills, occurred on July 3, 1863, the third and final day of the historic battle, which is considered the turning point of the Civil War.
The reason for the need to clean?
Grime accumulating on the surface of the canvas lining, which, if nothing is done, eventually "would imbed itself into the pristine varnish and paint surface," Ms. Small said. The work will remove dust and grime from the front and back of the canvas.
The circular Cyclorama painting was created in the 1880s. For years it had been housed on the interior wall of a building across from the Gettysburg National Cemetery, where thousands of Union soldiers are buried.
But when the new museum and visitors center opened in 2008, the painting was moved into it and installed in the same circular fashion. The old Cyclorama building is empty and will be razed.
The cleaning of the painting will be done by a crew led by the museum's chief conservator, David L. Olin, at a cost of $120,000, with the work expected to be finished by Feb. 1.
Visitors can watch the work Monday through Friday during January, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., as museum staff members describe the details of Pickett's charge displayed on the canvas. Cleaning will not occur on weekends.
This is a big year for the foundation and park service, which will hold many events marking the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg battle. Most of the events will be in late June and early July.
The Gettysburg Foundation, a private, nonprofit educational organization, is paying for the cleaning. The foundation works with the National Park Service "to enhance preservation and understanding of the heritage and lasting significance'' of the Gettysburg battle, Ms. Small said.
The museum and visitors center is at 1195 Baltimore Pike, a couple of miles outside Gettysburg's downtown.
Tickets to the Cyclorama and additional information are available at www.gettysburgfoundation.org or at 1-877-874-2478.
Tom Barnes: Hickeybarnes@yahoo.com.