Monday, November 19, 2007

A New Image of Lincoln at Gettysburg?

Abraham Lincoln did not leave Washington very often, but on this day in 1863, the president was in a small town in Pennsylvania.

He accepted an invitation to speak at the new Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg. Though his speech lasted less than two minutes, the Gettysburg Address remains the most significant speech in American history.

One might assume that the town was crawling with photographers, but it was not the case. In fact, only one photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg has surfaced.

Well, things might have just gotten more interesting.

Independent researcher John Richter claims that he has found another photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg (pictured above). He says the man in the center in the stove-pipe hat is Lincoln.

At least one Lincoln scholar is convinced. Harold Holzer says the photograph is “just staggering to look at.” In another interview, he suggests that the photograph represents the “Holy Grail” of Lincoln images.

The evidence must be pretty solid, right?

Unfortunately, Holzer uses some unfortunate logic: “I don’t see any reason to think it’s not Abraham Lincoln.”

Oh no!

I assume Holzer has more information about the photograph than I do, but I want to share some of my initial thoughts on this one.

“Richter’s Lincoln” is a blown-up version of a much larger photograph of the crowd at the cemetery.

This story explains how Richter “identified” Lincoln in the photograph:

Like the scientist who discovered Pluto because he knew where to look, Richter knew from historic descriptions of the ceremonies that the 4-by-7-inch plates of the troop procession ought to have Lincoln in there somewhere. "If I wouldn't have seen Lincoln there, it would have been a surprise," he said.

So he asked the center's president, Bob Zeller, to request much larger, more richly detailed computer files. Richter zoomed in tight and found what he was looking for: Lincoln on horseback — or so he believes.

I am skeptical.

First, if Lincoln is indeed on horseback, how did the camera capture his image? The horse would not have stood still long enough for the camera to do so.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, we learn that Richter simply scanned the crowd for someone who looked like the president until…bingo! The fellow in the stovepipe hat fit the bill. Richter seems to have fallen into a familiar trap. He assumes that Lincoln was the only man in Gettysburg wearing a stovepipe hat.

Is he right?

Absolutely not! Compare “Richter’s Lincoln” against the only known photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg:

Notice: Lincoln is not wearing a stovepipe hat in this photograph! Perhaps Lincoln simply removed his hat just before or after the speech. However, it still does not solve the stovepipe hat problem.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I count no less than five men wearing stovepipe hats in this photograph!

If the evidence for “Richter’s Lincoln” rests solely on the stovepipe hat, then I say it is a poor fit!


Geoff Elliott said...

I would like to believe this "new image" of Lincoln is the real deal. To clarify one thing, though, records do show that Lincoln wore his stovepipe hat complete with a mourning ribbon around it as he rode horseback towards the platform that day. At least this is what Harold Holzer wrote in his article "A Few Appropriate Remarks" in the November 1988 issue of "American History Illustrated" magazine.

Other commenters think the man in the "new photo" is actually the gentleman to the left of Lincoln (our right) in the only other known photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg. But if you look very closely at the "new photo" and compare the two men, I think the man in the "new photo" is thinner, especially at the shoulders, than the man in the known image.

Just my two cents. I enjoy your site!

Geoff Elliott

Samuel P. Wheeler said...

Hi Geoff,

Thanks for your comments and I will be checking your site!

Yes, Lincoln was wearing a hat that day, but I do find it curious that several of the men around him (at least 5 by my count) were wearing stovepipe hats.

According to the two articles I read regarding "Richter's Lincoln," the "president" was identified because 1) He was in the right place at the right time and 2) he was wearing a stovepipe hat and had a beard. If these are the only criteria for identifying Lincoln, I think we have a serious problem with our methodology.

Clearly, there were others around the president that day who fit that criteria.

I fail to see how anyone can make an identification based on the photos I've seen. It looks like wishful thinking.

Hopefully some more convincing evidence will come out soon.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Duane said...
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Duane said...
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