"Thank you all for coming out today on this special occasion -- the unveiling of Adairsville's newest attraction, a mural depicting an event that took place 149 years ago yesterday," Adairsville Downtown Development Authority Director Linda Bass told the crowd during the public unveiling. "It was on April 12, 1862, that a group of Union soldiers led by a civilian spy, James Andrews, hijacked a locomotive, The General, at Big Shanty. Today that area is known as Kennesaw. Their intent was to disrupt the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which was a vital link for the Confederacy between the cities of Chattanooga and Atlanta. Had it not been for the perseverance and tenacity of The General's conductor, William Fuller, Andrews' Raiders might have succeeded.
"Fuller used whatever means was available to chase the Raiders northward. First he set out on foot, then found a pole car and used that for a while. Along the route between here and Cartersville, he used several smaller locomotives and when he got to Adairsville he commandeered a southbound freight train that was being pulled by the locomotive, The Texas. And he continued the pursuit with the locomotive and the tinder box car going in reverse. Due to Fuller's diligence in trying to retrieve his stolen train, the Union's best laid plans went astray. ... They were too busy trying to get away. So it literally ran out of steam and all of The Raiders were subsequently captured."
While this incident, known as the Great Locomotive Chase, has been the inspiration for various books and films, Bass said this is the first time it has been illustrated in this manner.
"The painting that we will shortly unveil started out three years ago as a dream when artist Skip McNutt moved his business to Adairsville," she said. "He brought with him not only art supplies and copies of his works but [he] also brought an idea -- the idea of painting a mural somewhere in historic downtown Adairsville.
"He shared his vision with fellow artist and friend Ernie Neal, and with the help of a Rural Business Enterprise grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, their dream has become a reality. As of today, the mural will be a permanent attraction on this side of our historic depot -- the same depot that stood along the Western & Atlantic Railroad on that spring day in 1862."
Painted by McNutt -- who owns Part Time Artist in downtown Adairsville -- and Ernest W. Neal of Calhoun, the 8-foot-by-20-foot acrylic painting was funded by private donations and a $75,000 federal Rural Business Development Grant that was awarded to the Adairsville DDA's nonprofit committee, Adairsville Heritage Foundation. This is the first in a series of murals depicting the Great Locomotive Chase that the men want to install at municipalities across northwest Georgia.
For McNutt, a member of the Adairsville DDA, the opportunity to enhance Adairsville's appearance and economy has been a rewarding experience.
"[It is] one of relief," McNutt said about seeing the seven-month project come to fruition. "I'm glad to see that it's done and I hope the public will enjoy it. Everybody has their own taste of art. Mine is more of a realistic point of view as well as the other artist. We try to depict the scene as it would occur. ... The purpose behind [the mural], as within every municipality, is to attract tourism into those towns to where the tourism dollar will benefit each and every business and the municipality of course.
"Everything has been tried with every municipality that I've ever been aware of. There's not too many things that will attract people. Art is one of the things that will and being an artist I felt like that something like this, it's as good as a possibility as any."
The mural is a larger representation of an earlier painting created by McNutt and Neal.
"It was something that originally was illustrated several years back. Skip and I started working together to try to come up with the idea to do something like this, so that it can be put into mural form because Adairsville always has their festival every year that's related strictly to that," Neal said, referring to the Great Locomotive Chase Festival. "So then we were able to get the grant from the Department of Agriculture [that enabled us] to be able to put it together."
The mural unveiling precedes the town's Antiques and Arts Annual Sale, scheduled for Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m., at the historic downtown.
Admission is free for the two-day festival. In addition to vendors, the event also will feature live music, guided tours of the Adairsville Rail Depot Age of Steam Museum, a raffle, an antiques auction at Ken's Antiques & Auction -- 204 S. Main St. -- on Saturday evening, and a performance by Cartersville's Dixie Fire Cloggers on Sunday.
For more information about the event, visit www.AdairsvilleInApril.com.