Abraham Lincoln is undoubtedly one of the most famous U.S. presidents. Because of his distinct political achievements, well-known charisma, and memorable appearance, he is popular amongst Americans and a recognizable face outside of the U.S. It is no wonder the newfound Abraham Lincoln deathbed photo cause so much controversy.
Lincoln was the President during one of the most challenging periods of American history - the Civil War. The conflict divided the nation in two, causing a four-year-long war that claimed many lives. As we all know, Lincoln led the Union States, comprised of northern, anti-slavery states, against the Confederate south and was victorious.
Besides his political life, which, alongside winning one of the bloodiest wars in U.S. history, also included significant feats like abolishing slavery, Lincoln is also on the shortlist of U.S. presidents that were assassinated. On April 15, 1865, while attending a play at Ford's Theater in Washington D.C., the President was shot in the head by, now infamous, John Wilkes Booth. He died the following day at 7:22 am.
Rare photos of Abraham Lincoln cause much interest in experts. Until recently, no photographs depicting a dying president had been found. But, in a new Discovery Channel documentary, a haunting Abraham Lincoln deathbed photo was presented to the public. Although the documentary claimed its legitimacy, it was met with backlash from a combination of critics and skeptics. Below, you can view the full story behind the controversial Abraham Lincoln deathbed photo.
Making The Case
The original ambrotype photograph is locked away in an Illinois safe. It is a full-frontal shot of a man, seemingly the same age, with a similar appearance to Lincoln, lying in bed with his arms intertwined. What is truly horrifying is the look on his face - the man appears to be dead, his eyes set on one point, staring into nothingness. The person undoubtedly resembles the famous President, but is the newly found photograph a previously unknown Abraham Lincoln deathbed photo?
Some experts, like California investigator Whitney Braun, are fully convinced. Braun claims that she is 99 percent sure that the person depicted in the photo is Lincoln, calling it "the Holy Grail" in the world of authenticating. Braun says that after consultation with a medical expert, a facial recognition expert, and a ballistic expert, she cleared up all the doubts she originally had while studying the picture.
According to Braun, the picture was taken hours after Lincoln was shot by Henry Ulke - a professional photographer, a resident of the boarding house in front of the Ford's Theater where Lincoln was taken after the assassination.
Supposedly, he took the photo in secret before the President was taken to the White House. This was because the secretary of war at the time and Lincoln's close friend - Edwin Stanton - strongly opposed any photographs of a dying president. Therefore, Ulke, although he was, allegedly, in possession of a genuinely invaluable historical gem, did not publish the photo, fearing Stanton's wrath. After giving it to the descendants of Nancy Hanks, Lincoln's mother, the picture eventually ended up in possession of Larry Davis - an auctioneer from Illinois. Davis, as he claims, had the photograph stolen from him by his ex-wife, who, in turn, sold it to the current owner - an Illinois dentist Jared Spolar.
Despite the fact that the story sounds more than believable, the documentary was met with great criticism. Most notably, Harold Holzer, the author of the 1984 book The Lincoln Image: Abraham Lincoln and the Popular Print, believes that the image is not of Lincoln's.
"Not every man with a beard photographed after 1861 was Abraham Lincoln," said Holzer, who is more than experienced with virtually all the photos of the President that exist. After all, he has traced all the 130ish known photographs of Lincoln and included them in his book. He firmly disagrees with the idea that a "new" Abraham Lincoln deathbed photo has been found.
Other skeptics have also voiced their opinions on the subject too. Even though the person in the photo resembles Lincoln at first glance, after a careful examination, one can see that the man has a full beard and a thinner, smoother face than Lincoln did.
Based on the depictions in later years, the critics say the President had more of a goatee, not a full beard. However, Braun has defended the point by saying that the picture has been retouched, altering the original appearance of the person a bit by adding more facial hair and color to the cheeks.
In addition, as Holzer explains, the man in the photograph is wearing a white shirt, whereas Lincoln wore stripped when he was taken to the boarding house. This was done to check for any additional wounds that the President may have had. This further supports the idea that the image is not a lost Abraham Lincoln deathbed photo.
An actual photograph of the President's deathbed in the boarding house does exist. However, it is missing the President. It is one of those rare photos of Abraham Lincoln that is haunting in itself once you know the purpose of the bed. In the new photograph, however, it is not precisely visible whether or not it is the same bed.
The type of photograph also raises more questions. It is an ambrotype - a technique that was popular in the 1850s. The process requires working with glass. When the glass plate is placed against a dark background, the positive image can be viewed. The technique was mainly used for portraits during the 1850s, but the critics have remarked that it was not nearly as popular in 1865 - the date of Lincoln's assassination and the photograph's origin.
Is The Newfound Abraham Lincoln Deathbed Photo Legit?
The controversy surrounding one of the rarest photos of Abraham Lincoln (above) had existed in court before the documentary was aired. Davis, the Illinois auctioneer and the previous owner of the photograph, has claimed the photo's legitimacy in court for years.
Spolar, on the other hand, who is in current possession of the alleged Abraham Lincoln deathbed photo, had sued Braun, claiming that she did not honor the non-disclosure agreement the two parties agreed on when he showed her the photograph. In addition, Spolar believes that using the Lincoln deathbed photo in the documentary exploits his private property for profit.
Braun, and the chief producer of the documentary Archie Gips, believe that the photograph is indeed valid. Braun even said that it "belongs to the American people" and should be in a museum.
Rare photos of Abraham Lincoln are quite unique. If what we are working here with is indeed an Abraham Lincoln deathbed photo, then it may as well be the most remarkable finding of the Civil War era for decades. Rare old photographs go for millions at auctions, and without a doubt, this one has the potential to break all records.
However, as it stands, there is just not enough evidence. It will take much more time to convince the experts of the field and the critics that have great experience working with photos of the 19th century that the man pictured is Lincoln.
But, if the court does determine that it is an original Abraham Lincoln deathbed photo, which was previously unknown to have existed, and if Spolar wins the case against Braun, claiming the intellectual rights to the photograph, a scandal of immense magnitude may arise.