The term “moving panorama” has often been used as a metaphor, as in “the street scene was a moving panorama,” or “the moving panorama of life.”
What is lost to most of us is that moving panoramas were a common form of entertainment in the 19th century. Picture (as in the picture) a continuous canvas scene with each end rolled around large spools. Cranking and rolling one spool would scroll the painting past an audience. The paintings themselves were usually not the whole show. There would be a narrator and perhaps music to go along with the narration. Often the story would be essentially a road trip or travelogue describing what the narrator saw on his adventure.
The first reference to one I found in an Idaho paper was the mention of Pendar’s Panorama of the War in the Nov. 21, 1863 edition of the Boise News, which was a short-lived Idaho City newspaper.
In 1865 the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman noted that “A Panorama of the civil war in America, ancient scenes of the Bible, and a large number of miscellaneous and running comic views, will be exhibited in this city to-night in the canvas spread on the corner opposite the Statesman office. In connection with it is a sword-swallower, stone-eater and snake charmer.”
Artemus Ward, arguably the first ever stand-up comic, travelled the world with a panorama that was a parody of panoramas.
The Idaho County Free Press in Grangeville trumpeted a panorama on September 11, 1891. “There will be a magic lantern exhibition at Grange hall, Tuesday evening September 22, showing views of Gettysburg, historic places of America, the Johnstown disaster, views along the vine-clad Rhine, Irish scenery, an ocean steamer at sea, etc, etc. There will also be recitations of famous poems, and an interesting lecture to accompany the panorama.”
A competing form of entertainment, and another presage of motion pictures, was the viewing of projected stereoscopic photos. An article or ad—it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference—in the Idaho City World of October 13, 1866, touted the superiority of this new amusement over moving panoramas with a series of stacked headlines:
And California and Nevada Scenery
Produced by the wonderful and celebrated
Will exhibit at the
JENNY LIND THEATER, IDAHO CITY