From: NBC NEWS
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln stirred the soul of an embattled
nation with the famous speech he delivered in Gettysburg, Pa. And now,
150 years later, Lincoln has again aroused passions by being spotted —
possibly — in a stereoscopic photograph taken on the day of the
But is Abe Lincoln really
in the photo? And, if so, which of two images of a bearded man in a
black stovepipe hat is Lincoln? These questions have set off a dust-up
in the normally staid world of archival photography, according to Smithsonian magazine.
years ago, John Richter, an amateur historian and director of the
Center for Civil War Photography, magnified a stereograph taken by
photographer Alexander Gardner on the day of Lincoln's now-famous Gettysburg speech.
Richter identified a tall figure on horseback, wearing a stovepipe hat
and saluting the troops, as the 16th U.S. president.
finding was celebrated as a rare gem of a photo, since only one other
image of Lincoln is known to exist from that fateful day. But ever
since the finding was announced, skeptics questioned the veracity of
the supposed Lincoln photo.
"For starters, the guy on the horse
looks like a Cossack. His beard is longer and much fuller than the
wispy, trimmed one the president wore in his studio session with
Gardner 11 days before," William Frassanito, a historian and author of
"Gettysburg: A Journey in Time" (Thomas Publications, 1996) told Smithsonian.
"Lincoln had an unmistakable gap between his goatee and his sideburns.
If you're going to spy him in a black speck in a distant background,
at least get the beard right."
Earlier this year, Christopher
Oakley — a former Disney animator and Civil War buff — was working on a
3-D animation of Honest Abe as part of his Virtual Lincoln Project, a
student collaboration. (Oakley also teaches new media at the University
of North Carolina-Asheville.)
While examining Gardner's stereograph, Oakley wondered if the Library of Congress (which
owns the image) had ever created a high-resolution copy of the photo's
left-sided negative. They hadn't, but would do so for $73. "It's the
best $73 I ever spent," Oakley told USA Today. "As soon as I had that [negative] in my hands, I was able to look at it much more clearly."
investigation found two critical images in the enhanced stereograph.
First, the man Richter and others assumed to be Lincoln was wearing a
coat with military-style epaulets on the shoulders. Lincoln is known to
have been wearing a plain overcoat that day.
And perhaps even
more important, Oakley identified a man with a trimmed beard and
stovepipe hat standing precisely where Lincoln would have stood, near a
man Oakley determined to be then-Secretary of State William Seward, who
was on the speaker's platform. "All the landmarks — jawline, beard,
hair, cheekbones, heavy brow, ears — line up perfectly," Oakley told
But Oakley's findings don't sit well with all
historians, namely Richter. "The man I found had to be Lincoln,"
Richter told Smithsonian. "Who else might have been returning a salute
but the commander in chief?"
Actually, other experts have noted
that it's unlikely Lincoln would have saluted the troops, since Ronald
Reagan is acknowledged as the first U.S. president to have done so, in
1981 — a notable break with presidential protocol.
prominent figure on horseback wearing epaulets? Probably a uniformed
member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, hundreds of whom were
in attendance that day. "The fraternal order assigned its own marshals
to the ceremony," Frassanito told Smithsonian. "No one knows what their
uniforms looked like," but the mounted man was likely an Odd Fellows
official or some other marshal in a military-style coat, he added.