Monday, April 4, 2011

The Holy Grail of Pickens Drawings

By now it's clear that I'm a fort geek. I've been to Fort Pickens so many times that several of the Park Rangers know me by name.

I've got maybe a hundred pages of sketches and measurements, several hundred photos, some technical drawings, but after nearly 12 years of climbing and walking and measuring and scribbling, I have never put together a complete single drawing of the place. The smaller details--individual rooms, the curtain walls, each bastion alone--are easy enough on their own, but mistakes that aren't obvious in one can keep the whole thing from coming together. That's what happened with the 1:480 scale "hero" drawing I was working on in 2006--I couldn't get the northwest and southwest walls lined up.

The drawings I've found online and in Edwin Bearss' Historic Structure Report are low-resolution and don't blow up well enough to get good measurements from. The National Archives has everything I could possibly want--but none of the printing companies I contacted ever answered back (they don't want money? Well then!).

Then there's the #2 Plan that recently made Pic of the Day. I found it in a search on the Library of Congress website. They've got it as a 25mb JPEG 2000 image. It's good for archival, I suppose, since it gives a high degree of compression while preserving image detail. The format was supposed to replace standard JPEG, but 11 years on it's still kind of hard to find usable viewers. I went through several programs and the only thing that worked was the Express View plugin for Internet Explorer. You can open the image and save the visible section as a bitmap, but that's about it; no hi-resolution conversion.

It wasn't until I was looking at GIMP plugins that I finally found a program--IrfanView--that would let me open the JP2 file and re-save as a 75mb JPEG. Big damn file, but all the detail of Joseph Totten's original 1828 drawing is there, including his measurements along the Channel Fronts. This is the part of the fort that just wouldn't line up in my drawings.

I spent several hours just scrolling across the Big Picture, comparing the few sections of Totten's work that got built to my own and was pleased that I'd gotten so close to his numbers. All I was missing was that angle I'd never have gotten without surveying equipment...or an original drawing. Turns out it's just what I needed.

The "Heroes" tag is for Irfan and for Joseph Totten, who spent decades of his life in fortification engineering.

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