While travel appsters hover over their gadgets, scrolling and squinting at a tiny screen, I hoisted my low-tech guidebooks all over Atlanta. I ruffled through their pages on sidewalks, in my rental car and even inside a bathroom at a bar, searching for whatever I needed next: food, culture, a cab, coffee, the police. And though the weight of the books crocheted a knot in my back, at least I didn’t walk into a parking meter.
To cover the entire spectrum of Atlanta, I toted around a small library of guidebooks: “Moon Handbooks” (for standards and staples), “Not for Tourists Guide to Atlanta” (as comprehensive as a phone book) and “Wallpaper City Guide” (sybaritic and stylish).
Each book spoke its own patois, yet sometimes they came together in a cohesive voice — a valuable consensus for an indecisive traveler. Case in point: the Georgian Terrace Hotel, the august early 20th-century property that appeared in all three softbacks, including the very discerning “Wallpaper.” Leave the equivocating to Yelpers and Trip Advisors.
And yet sometimes they didn’t endorse equally — a conundrum for a waffling traveler. The Cyclorama, considered the largest oil painting in the world, was too anti-aesthetic for “Wallpaper,” which avoids the campy and the common. “Moon” provided a thorough write-up, but its description lacked flash. “NFT,” however, went straight for the superlatives. I go weak for “-ests.”
Neither book truly captured the Cyclorama’s essence, but maybe they were intentionally holding back to protect the secret sauce. I stumbled into the museum unprepared, except for knowing the phone number, address, Web site, hours and admission fee. To view one of three intact Cycloramas in the country (about 20 worldwide), I had to wait for the next tour. Guests aren’t allowed inside the amphitheater unattended; perhaps the temptation to jump into the painted scene and play Civil War soldier is too strong.
To bide my time, I read about the painting’s creation in 1886 by German and Polish immigrants in Milwaukee, who illustrated a dramatic day (July 22, 1864) in the Battle of Atlanta. The painting measures 42 feet high and 358 feet in circumference and includes a Natural Museum of History-ish diorama that was added to the foreground in 1936.
The seats in the auditorium turned softly as our group embarked on two rotations of the painting, the chaos and calamity of war streaming across the wall. The guide helped focus our attention by pointing out certain features: the sole woman (a red dot tending to the wounded), the lone black man (a reference to the freeing of slaves) and the comely face of Clark Gable, whose smiling visage graced the fallen body of a soldier. After the tour, a woman with two German guests informed the guide that she has lived in Atlanta since 1981 and had never visited the Cyclorama until now.