Gettysburg Mural Gets New Life

Gettysburg buffs are well-acquainted with Mark Dunkelman’s wonderful mural that depicts the fight in Kuhn’s Brickyard on July 1, 1863. The mural sits just off modern-day Coster Avenue. Time and weather have both roughed up the mural since its original installation in 1988 and its subsequent restoration in 2001. Fortunately, Mark recently related some good news to the descendants of the 154th New York infantry—one of the regiments involved in the fight and depicted in the mural. We asked Mark if we could share his news—in his words—here at ECW for the many fans of his work.

Coster Avenue Mural-sm

by Mark H. Dunkelman

My mural adjacent to the 154th New York’s monument on Coster Avenue in Gettysburg was installed and dedicated in 1988, the 125th anniversary of the battle. It was in great shape for a number of years before it began to deteriorate owing to exposure to the elements. So in September of 2001, my artistic partner Johan Bjurman and I went to Gettysburg, scraped off the peeling marine spar varnish, and repainted and re-varnished the entire mural. The “Bearss Brigade,” the friends and followers of the Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service and legendary battlefield guide, Ed Bearss, funded that effort at Ed’s request. The mural looked good for a number of years before deterioration set in once again. For several years now, I’ve been aware of its deplorable condition. The question was what to do about it.

Johan and I faced two choices. One was to go to Gettysburg and do the necessary repairs and repaint the entire thing, like we did back in 2001. But we knew if we did that, we would be looking at repeating the process several years down the road, when the mural deteriorated yet again. (And for years we’ve been joking about repainting it when we’re even older men than we are now!) So we began to consider choice number two: To find some way of reproducing the mural that would hold up much better and much longer than the original.

When a friend of my wife’s asked me if I had ever thought of reproducing the mural on glass, I was initially skeptical. But I met with a local glass company, Lucid Glass Studio of East Providence, Rhode Island, which had worked with another artist. They told me about a process called Dip-Tech, which uses ceramic inks to create the image on glass, which is then heat-treated, fusing the ink right onto the glass. And because the image is applied to the back of the glass, it has protection from the front (and is consequently easy to clean if need be). Standard Bent Glass of East Butler, Pennsylvania, does the Dip-Tech production. Lucid and Standard Bent had worked together before on another artistic effort. Both firms said they could do the job, with Standard Bent to fabricate the mural and Lucid to oversee the project and install it. Like the original painting, it would be made in a number of sections that would fit together to make the whole.

This seemed to be the solution we were looking for. With that decided, we needed a digital image for Standard Bent to work with. When the mural was restored back in 2001, an outfit took digital photos of it to make a print. They retained the files, so we had them to work with. But a local Rhode Island digital reproduction firm, Iolabs, informed us that the files were insufficient to be blown up to the necessary size without losing focus.

The solution was to make a roughly 15-foot-long-print from those files, and paint over that print to create a new image to photograph and produce new files. Repainting also gave us the chance to make some changes in the image itself, the most important of which was to show the Confederate line at the far right of the mural extending across a field and outflanking the left of the Union line.

Johan, being a better and faster painter than I am, did the paint-over. It looked great, and Iolabs reproduced it beautifully. (See the image above.)

So the files went to Standard Bent, and after some adjustments were made with the color, the mural was ready to go into production. With that, Johan and I were ready to go to Gettysburg to remove the old original mural to make way for the new. We went separately, because Johan and his wife, Miriam, wanted to visit a relative of hers on the way.

Several years had passed since I was last in Gettysburg. When I arrived on Thursday, September 24, I immediately went to the Visitor Center to pick up a new map of the battlefield. There I found the NPS is giving away a set of eight cards relating to the battle, meant for children. One of them depicts the Humiston children and summarizes the story on the reverse, so I took a set for the files. I then went out to Coster Avenue and spent the rest of the day greeting visitors and neighbors and checking in with the folks at Coldsmith Roofing, owners of the building to which the mural is attached. I spent the night—and all of my stay—in an apartment at the home of friend Sue Cipperly, conveniently located around the corner from Coster Avenue on North Stratton Street. (I had stayed with Sue’s former neighbors, friends Paul Kallina and Carolyn Quadarella, on prior visits from 1999 until they moved a couple of years ago.)

Friday, September 25: In the morning I went into town to see what had happened to the two buildings that once housed the orphanage inspired by the Humiston story. The former Homestead Lodgings for tourists is now “Civil War Tails at the Homestead and Diorama Museum,” but was closed every time I went by. I was told that it features a display of ceramic cats (hence the “Tails” part of its name). Next door, 777 Baltimore Street used to be the Soldiers National Museum (and before that, Cliff Arquette’s Soldiers Museum; during the battle, it was Gen. Oliver Otis Howard’s headquarters). The phony façade that used to front it is gone, and the building now looks more like it did in the nineteenth century. But it now houses Ghostly Images of Gettysburg, one of several operations that conduct ghost tours that have become ubiquitous at night in the borough.

Inside I found a book that discusses haunting in and near the former orphanage buildings, and—to my surprise and amusement—at Coster Avenue, where speculation has the ghosts emerging from their images in the mural!

Around 10:30 Friday morning Johan and Miriam Bjurman arrived, and he and I immediately set to work taking down the old mural. Around noon a reporter and photographer from the Gettysburg Times visited and interviewed me and took pictures of us working. Things proceeded smoothly until mid-afternoon. Johan and I were carrying one of the heavy steel rails on which the mural was hung when he tripped and fell heavily into the stack of removed panels. It was obvious he was badly hurt and Miriam rushed him to Gettysburg Hospital, where x-rays revealed he had three broken ribs. During the rest of the day, I managed to remove the remaining panels and lower wood and steel rails by myself, leaving just the upper steel rail and some brackets to be removed.

(Johan’s injury was eerily reminiscent of an incident that occurred when we originally installed the mural in 1988. While carrying one of the mural sections, I tripped in almost the exact same spot and injured my knee and wound up in Gettysburg Hospital! X-rays were negative on that occasion, but I was crippled for the rest of the time we were in town. I still have a knot on my knee from that accident.)

Saturday, September 26: The injured Johan and Miriam started back to Rhode Island, planning to take two days to make the trip so that Johan wouldn’t need to spend too much time in the car per day. That morning’s Gettysburg Times had the mural story and picture on the first page, above the fold and—astonishingly—above a story about the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia. That morning I also met Mike Coldsmith, owner of the business and building after his father Roy’s retirement, and he told me his workmen would remove the top rail on Monday—a big relief to me, as I’m not good on ladders.

I continued to work cleaning up around the wall, sweeping its surface and cutting brush from its perimeter. I also spent a lot of time talking with visitors to Coster Avenue. Among them were Terry Lee Hartzell and his wife, Linda, of Middletown, Pennsylvania. I had a long chat with them, in the course of which I said that the old mural sections were free for the taking, and we posed for some photos with the center section of the mural, the panel depicting Amos Humiston beneath the national flag. That afternoon Sue Cipperly brought over her circular saw and we cut the image of Amos from that panel for me to take home as a souvenir. I loaded it into my car and soon after called it a day.

Sunday, September 27: I went to Coster Avenue to see who would show up and to my astonishment found the nineteen remaining mural sections were gone! It turned out that Terry Lee Hartzell had posted on a Facebook “Gettysburg Past and Present” page about the old mural and its availability to whoever wanted it, and as quick as that some local folks had picked it up: Darah Gardner, a Gettysburg College graduate and photographer; Doug Stephens, proprietor of the Victorian Carriage Company, which offers horse-drawn carriage rides in the borough and horseback rides on the battlefield; and Dustin Heisey of Columbia, Pennsylvania. They felt the old mural was worth preserving, as they explained to me in subsequent meetings.

Monday, September 28: I used the free time to walk from Coster Avenue out the Harrisburg Road to Howard Avenue—site of the 11th Corps line on July 1, 1863—and over it to the Carlisle Road and back to town. That afternoon I visited the National Cemetery and the graves of 154th New York men buried there.

Tuesday, September 29: In the morning I met the team from Lucid Glass Studio at Coster Avenue. They spent the day putting up tarps to cover the work area (it had started to rain off and on, as it would for the rest of our stay) and installing the steel and wooden rails that would hold and support the glass sections of the new version of the mural. Among the visitors this day were George Yurick and Geraldine Rebello, who had befriended Johan and me when we did the 2001 restoration.

Wednesday, September 30: The Lucid Glass team finished preparing the hardware and battened down the tarps because of high winds. That night Sue and I went to the Reliance Mine Saloon to see Bill Frassanito, Civil War photographic historian extraordinaire and one of my advisors during the research and design of the mural, with whom we closed the place down at midnight.

Thursday, October 1: I arrived at Coster Avenue at 5:45 a.m. and found the first truck had arrived from Standard Bent Glass. When the Lucid Glass team arrived later, they unloaded the first seven sections of glass. They had them installed and sealed by mid-afternoon. But the second truck from Standard Bent did not arrive until 8:30 p.m. I wasn’t there when that happened. The Lucid Glass team had bought lights so they could finish the installation that night. Meanwhile, Sue and I had gone to the Adams County Historical Society to see Bill Frassanito and Licensed Battlefield Guide Tim Smith, who kindly gave me copies of documentation showing additional houses that were on Stratton Street at the time of the battle. After that we took the orphanage ghost tour, and I got the opportunity to crouch in the stone walled basement “dungeon” where the cruel matron Rosa Carmichael reportedly shackled and chained misbehaving orphans as punishment.

We got back to Coster Avenue around 10 p.m. I had told the Lucid Glass team about the supposed haunting of Coster Avenue. Figuring I’d have a little fun with them, hidden in the darkness beyond the tarps, I let out a moan. “What the @#&% was that?” one of them cried. But that was the end of the fun and games.

It turned out that the second shipment of glass panels included five that were incorrectly printed, with the upper portions lighter than they should be. This was dismaying, but there was nothing to do but install them anyway. Standard Bent Glass will now have to make new panels to replace the flawed ones, and the Lucid Glass team will have to return to Gettysburg to install them. When that will happen is uncertain. I’ll keep you posted….

Here are links to sites with photographs of the mural, both old and new:

6 Responses to Gettysburg Mural Gets New Life

  1. What a great story and what a tremendous gift to the memory of those soldiers who fought there.
    I would love to see the photos but you need a sign-in and password.

  2. There is a recent dust up about Supreme Court cases which cite a link which is outdated and no longer used. The same applies to linkage to for-purchase-only sites. ECW is pretty good about avoiding bad links. Just put a $ sign by the link which will tell the reader it is for purchase.

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