Murray, KY – Recently, the great-great-grandson of Ulysses S. Grant produced a picture from an old family album that could very well be the last image of President Abraham Lincoln taken before his 1865 assassination. However, a private collector has a photograph that may change that tall, thin, and bearded image of the 16th President. Todd Hatton spoke with the collector about the picture, as well as with those who say there's nothing to see here.
There are perhaps 3 or 4 Americans whose images are so iconic they've become visual representations of American ideals and culture. And other than George Washington, John Wayne, and Elvis Presley, Abraham Lincoln's is the face many picture.
2009 marks the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, and his gaunt, biblical prophet-like face is ubiquitous; in marble, on money, and in black and white. That's more or less how we know him.
But if retired Nevada stockbroker Albert Kaplan is right, then he's the owner of a photograph that may change all of that.
Kaplan says he came across this early 1840's daguerreotype of a young man, part of a collection in a New York photographic art gallery, in 1977.
AK EDIT (1) - "And I thought to myself, This is no ordinary man; this is a unique personality.' Handsome, and beautifully dressed. It was quite different from all the rest. A few things went through my head. In any event, I bought it." (0:18)
The picture shows a man, in his late twenties or early thirties, impeccably groomed, with a full, strong-jawed face and a supremely confident gaze. But one detail sparked the notion that this callow-looking gentleman was more familiar than he thought.
AK EDIT (2) - "I remembered that Lincoln had a cleft in his chin, and I could see clearly the cleft in the chin of the young man in the daguerreotype. A few days later I went to the public library in New York and looked at photographs of Lincoln and I had the daguerreotype with me and immediately I saw for sure this is Lincoln." (0:24)
The generally acknowledged earliest known photograph of Lincoln is an 1848 portrait, known as "Maserve Number One," taken while he was in the U.S. House of Representatives. "Handsome," and "beautifully dressed," aren't exactly the words that leap to mind as one looks at the emaciated and exhausted congressman from Illinois.
After looking at "Maserve Number One," the words that leap to Dr. Winfield Rose's mind are:
Rose EDIT (2) - "It does not look like Lincoln." (0:03)
Dr. Rose is a Murray State professor of Government, Law, and International Affairs. He's a passionate Lincoln historian, and his work in the field led to a seat on Kentucky's Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. We provided Dr. Rose with a copy of the photograph, and he solicited the opinions of others in the field of Lincoln studies. Warren Greer, who's project director for Kentucky's Lincoln Bicentennial and works for the Kentucky Historical Society, sided with Rose. Another Kentucky Lincoln researcher, Roger Billings has studied Lincoln extensively, and he says there's only one genuine picture of Lincoln in his thirties, the one taken in 1848. Dr. Rose picks up Billings' answer.
Rose EDIT (3) - " No known earlier photo exists and the few later photos of him without a beard start in the late 1850's. So, the comparison with similar photos is immediately suspect. Kaplan wanted to find someone who would authenticate his photo because if it is genuine, it is priceless.'" (0:19)
Actually, Lincoln experts estimate that an item like this could be worth around a million dollars. Nevertheless, Kaplan is ready for the kinds of objections Billings raises. He says the nay-sayers aren't considering the picture scientifically. But getting that kind of documentation and analysis proved to be a challenge. According to Kaplan, The FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, and Scotland Yard proved not to have the necessary skills to analyze the photograph.
AK EDIT (4.3.1) - "I did discover later on that the French police are superb at this, they're they only police force that I'm aware of that has specialists in facial identification. And they had no doubt that the image was Lincoln...they do overlays, and they compare things." (0:20)
When Kaplan submitted the daguerreotype to New York's Lincoln group for their consideration, they took a look, then took a vote. Anyone who thought it was Lincoln was to raise their hand.
AK EDIT (4.3) - "And only one person raised his hand. It was a little girl, an eleven-year-old girl. And she said she was sure it was Lincoln, she was the only one." (0:11)
We conducted our own non-scientific poll and showed both the Kaplan and Maserve portraits to people at a deli in Murray State's student center. This is how Brian Betz, Paige Holdham, Rebecca Brayboy, and Katy Hamm responded.
MSU (3.1) - (BETZ) "The ears are big, too...(BRAYBOY) It's looks like they're lower set than the ears in this one, like, they look like they're a lot lower on his face...(HOLDHAM) Yeah, but he does have different hair...(BRAYBOY) Well, just cause the hair's covering it, it still looks low...(HAMM) See, my thing is that even though the face is skinnier, obviously he's lost, still if you line up the bone structure, it's still not the same." (0:20)
Out of the ten people who looked at the picture, only Paige Holdham identified it as Abraham Lincoln.
MSU (3.2) - (HOLDHAM) It looks like Lincoln cause it...basically it looks like his face is the exact same, it just looks like he's gone through more stress now, like look if you see the presidents nowadays, they look completely different than they did...(BRAYBOY) They look older but their face shape doesn't change...But he probably lost weigh and wasn't eating, whereas this one he looks like he's...(BRAYBOY) No, he's always been really skinny, he's always been very skinny...(HOLDHAM) And maybe this is because he's wearing a neckpiece that's more tight around his neck." (0:23)
And perhaps coincidentally, Paige is from Illinois.
Everybody else just didn't see it. The ears were too low, the nose wasn't the same, the eyes weren't right, and so on. Maybe they have a point.
But if the Kaplan Daguerreotype actually is Abraham Lincoln, so what? What does it change? Kaplan says it surprises us and brings a new perspective to our old beliefs, a sort of beneficial iconoclasm.
AK (5.1) - "Yes, he was a backwoods boy, that's true. But he was also a very distinguished looking man all his life. Abraham Lincoln didn't drop from the clouds and end up in the White House; he was always Abraham Lincoln." (0:17)
Kaplan's sentiment, unlike his photograph, is certainly beyond debate.