Seeing the Elephant

The Civil War Museum
Kenosha, WI

“Seeing the Elephant” is the term Civil War soldiers used to describe their first experience with combat. A new, in-the-round movie experience entitled Seeing the Elephant at the Civil War Museum gives visitors a glimpse at “the Elephant.” The film gives visitors a historically accurate, multi-sensory portrayal of the nature of Civil War training and combat.

The ten minute film is shown on an 11′ high, 44′ diameter circular screen and utilizes 360° movie technology to place museum visitors within the recruiting rallies, camps, and front lines of an Upper Midwestern company of soldiers. Using primary sources such as letters, newspaper articles, and diaries as the basis for the script, the movie follows three soldiers as they leave their homes, train, face battle, and deal with the consequences of war.

Using 19th century cyclorama paintings as their inspiration, 360 degree camera technology was used to shoot and stitch eight images into one seamless in the round experience. Over 200 people, including actors, reenactors, film crew, technical and historical advisers, and museum staff, gathered to create the film. Visitors view the movie from a 44″ raised platform with speakers installed above circular screen and below the platform. Light fixtures change color throughout the presentation to help transition the film as scenes change.

The film is a visual representation of how the experience of battle impacted the soldiers, citizens, and communities of the Upper Midwest. By tracing the experience of a Midwest company of soldiers as they leave home and hearth, train with their troops, face battle together, and ultimately deal with the consequences of war, the film puts a human face on the story of the Upper Middle West from 1861 to 1865. It helps visitors realize the soldiers of the Civil War were not two dimensional sepia-toned figures seen in books but were someone’s son, husband, father, brother, or cousin.