Frankenstein

Didn’t think there was a Frankenstein connection to the Gettysburg battlefield.  Read our guest post by Seasonal Park Ranger Chuck Teague and learn otherwise:

   Valuable perspectives on the Battle of Gettysburg can be gained from many sources: official reports, diaries, letters, photographs, maps, sketches, journal articles, memoirs, artifacts, etc. But one resource mostly overlooked involves paintings.
    Granted, the massive canvases of Paul Phillipoteaux and Peter Rothermel have been heralded for decades. The former’s Cyclorama now displayed in the GNMP Museum and Visitor Center has astonished people for decades. And the latter’s paintings displayed in the Pennsylvania State Museum are also awesome in their scope.
    An artist of our battlefield whose works are well worth pondering is George Leo Frankenstein. Born in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1825, he immigrated to America with his family at the age of six. The parents and five children settled in Cincinnati among a blossoming German population who lovingly called their new hometown “Zinzinnati.” The Frankenstein family, quite unconnected to Mary Shelley’s monster creator, had actually changed their name from Tracht upon arriving in America.
    The Frankensteins became respected in the area for their artistic abilities, and young George Leo was apprenticed by his five-year-older brother Godfrey as a landscape artist. In an era of grand panoramas, they created one of Niagara Falls which George then exhibited across the country. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the Commissary Department of the War Department in support of the armies. As the staggering scope of the war became evident, Frankenstein set for himself the challenge of visiting the major battlefields of Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and, of course, Gettysburg, painting the landscapes. Altogether he ventured over 3000 miles, much of it by foot, in the cause of depicting for posterity the ground on which Americans had bled and died.
    In 1866 he spent much of the summer wandering the fields of Gettysburg, setting up his easel at various locations. At two critical sites—East Cemetery Hill and the fields of Pickett’s Charge—he worked on creating panoramas by doing multiple small pieces on paper.

East Cemetery Hill, looking north along Baltimore Street. The Lutheran Seminary is visible in the distance. Oak Ridge and Oak Hill can be seen to the right of the Seminary. NPS

    One of the values in studying his paintings is in seeing important terrain features not well recorded in photographs, such as Benner’s Hill, Zeigler’s Grove, and Power’s Hill. The 360 degree panorama from East Cemetery Hill, done from the location of the present-day Hancock equestrian statue, is especially remarkable. The artillery lunettes are still prominent. Looking to the north, it is possible to pick out a number of buildings in the town, with the Almshouse and Barlow’s Knoll beyond. It is no wonder that Major General Oliver Otis Howard exclaimed, “This is a good place for a battle.”

The view from East Cemetery Hill looking slightly northeast. The German Reformed Church at the corner of Stratton and High Streets is in the middle ground. The row of houses projecting east from the church are along York Street. In the distance, above and to the right of the church, is the Almshouse and above it, Barlow’s Knoll. NPS

Detail of July 1863 view from East Cemetery Hill which reflects the accuracy of Frankenstein’s painting. NPS

 
    Perhaps the most revealing painting was one done from the National Cemetery from a point near where the Lincoln Speech Memorial now stands. Looking in the southwest direction, the open fields of fire for 11th Corps artillery is startlingly apparent. The Brien and Codori homesteads are clearly seen from Cemetery Hill, as is the Copse and Pitzer Woods. Indeed, Maryland is quite visible in the distance!
    Frankenstein had the dream of receiving a commission from the War Department for his paintings of Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Chickamauga, Vicksburg, and other grand battlefields, but, alas, interest waned and George refocused into other pursuits, including becoming a journalist, poet, drama critic, and elocutionist.

Culp’s Hill from East Cemetery Hill with Benner’s Hill visible in the left distance. NPS

    The portfolio of Frankenstein paintings eventually was dispersed. Gettysburg National Military Park is privileged to have three of these battlefield paintings in its collection, and others have come into the collections of other national parks. Special Collections at the Gettysburg College library has a couple dozen or so.
    It is fitting that these paintings are again coming to light during the sesquicentennial of the war, as they draw us back to images of Hallowed Ground well before the disruption of modernity.

Seasonal Park Ranger Chuck Teague

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5 Responses to Frankenstein

  1. Dale Call says:

    Many of the Frankenstein paintings in the collection of Gettysburg Collection are available for viewing online as part of their digital collection. As mentioned, they give all of us in the modern day a chance to see the landscape as it nearly was at the time of the battle.

    The views to the north of town are especially interesting for those of with an interest in the XI Corps.

  2. Awesome paintings! I love being better able to picture the town and the battlefield as it was back then.

  3. Rob says:

    I have a question and i didn’t really know where else to ask this…When will there be a Ranger-led walk on Power’s Hill? I thought i heard that somebody would be doing one on July 2 as tree-removal is near-complete?

    • The Staff says:

      Rob,

      Troy Harman will be doing a hike that will visit Power’s Hill this Wednesday morning from 9-12. Meet at the flagpole on the plaza in front of the Visitor Center. If you can’t make that program email me at scott_hartwig@nps.gov and I can let you know when another ranger may be doing a program in that area.

      Best regards,
      Scott Hartwig

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