Moving Panoramas of the Mississippi River

Moving Panoramas of the Mississippi River - Past and Present

The most well known image of a moving panorama. This illustration appeared in the article "John Banvard and His Panorama" in the magazine Scientific American. 1848

This page is a collection of historical information about 19th Century moving panoramas of the Mississippi River  AND  the modern day musical GEORAMA which tells the story of John Banvard, the first artist to create a moving panorama of the Mississippi River.

THE PRESENT - GEORAMA - A Musical about Moving Panorama Showman John Banvard

The musical GEORAMA premiered in 2016 at the St. Louis Rep in St. Louis, MO.

In the mid 1800s, John Banvard created the first, really successful moving panorama, a three-mile long scrolled painting celebrating the mighty Mississippi River. (read more about Banvard in the section below). Fast forward to the 21st Century. West Hyler and Matt Schatz created the musical GEORAMA, with music written by Jack Herrick, to celebrate the life of this largely-forgotten artist. It premiered in January 2015.

The St. Louis Rep crew painted a 600 foot long moving panorama for the show. This humongous effort was lead by Scott C. Neal.  Hats off to GEORAMA director, West Hyler, who took the WAY more difficult road in creating a real moving panorama for the show instead of digitally projecting the image.


Where do you go to paint a 600 foot scroll? They found a skating rink in St. Louis where they could lay out the scroll on the floor to paint it. Scott C. Neale led the project.
In this trailer from 2015, you can see the canvas "rolling" in the background.

THE PAST - John Banvard and his Moving Panorama of the Mississippi River

John Banvard, one of the most successful moving panorama showman of the 19th Century.

John Banvard (1815-1891) was one of the most successful  moving panorama showman of the 19th century.   A self-taught artist, he spent two years sketching the Mississippi river before painting the moving panorama.  The scroll did not survive to this day.  It was described as being a bit "rough" or "folk artish" but the size of it (advertised as three miles long)  together with his masterful story telling made the show a instant  success.

Banvard performing his Mississippi moving panorama for Queen Victoria.

In 1848, Banvard crossed the Atlantic to take his moving panorama to London where he opened at the Egyptian Hall.  With the combination of his Yankee delivery, joke telling and artwork, he was able to  "transport" the audience across the waters to the Mississippi.  The show was so successful he was invited to  perform for Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle.

His immense fame inspired others to follow suit. At one time there were seven touring Mississippi panoramas.   Only one survived to this day.  Known as the "Dickinson/Egan" panorama.  Read about it below. 

Further reading:

Though Banvard's moving panorama scoll did not survive, there are descriptions of it and additional information from reviews and other writings.   You can download a booklet to read a description of the panorama and of Banvard's two year sketching trip. It is entitled (get ready) Description of Banvard's Panorama of the Mississippi River Painted on Three Miles of Canvas Exhiting a View of Country 1200 Miles in Length, Extending from the Mouth of the Missouri River to the City of New Orleans; Being by Far the Largest Picture Ever Executed by Man. 1847.

"The Lost Panoramas of the Mississippi" and "Mississippi Panorama".

And more resources:

City Art Museum of St. Louis, "Mississippi Panorama", Von Hoffman Press, 1950.

McDermott, John Frances, "The Lost Panoramas of the Mississippi", The University of Chicago Press, 1958.

Huhtamo, Erkki, "Illusions in Motion, Media Archaeology of the Moving Panorama and Related Spectacles" MIT Press, 2013.


The "Dickeson/Egan" Panorama or, The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley

The original Dickeson-Egan moving panorama was last cranked in the 1950s. The only surviving mechanism parts were one roller and some spokes. The rest had to be recreated. You can see the man is turning the scroll by moving the spokes.

The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley was painted by John Egan (Irish born) around 1850. He used distemper on cotton muslin and it measures 90 in. x 348 ft.

The moving panorama was commissioned by the amateur archaeologist Wilson Dickeson (1810–1882). It is the only surviving panorama of the Mississippi River.

The scroll is made up of twenty-five scenes that interpret the history of the River Valley. It differs from the other Mississippi panoramas in that its focus is more archaeological in nature, with depictions of ancient Native American burial mounds.  Egan sought to keep the audience's attention by portraying a wide range of weather conditions—including storms, snow, a tornado, and a rainbow—which he executed with dramatic lighting effects.

It is housed at the St. Louis Art Museum.  They have restored and filmed the panorama. Watch the video below!

The moving panorama is housed at the St. Louis Art Museum who restored and filmed the scroll.
In 2014, portion of the panorama was on view at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas . The timelapse video shows the crew loading the scroll into the giant apparatus. It makes me wonder how they managed to do this in the mid 19th Century.
A broadside advertising the "Dickeson/Egan" Mississippi moving panorama.
Melissa Wolfe, Curator of American Art at the St. Louis Art Museum, points out some details of the Mississippi panorama to members of the International Panorama Council, Jan. 2015.

I encourage you to visit the St. Louis Art Museum. There are only about twenty 19th Century, large moving panoramas that survived.  Of those, only a handful are exhibited for the public to see.  Check out their website.

This page was created in 2016, updated in 2019. Sue TrumanHeart