November 25, 2008. Barry Cauchon.
Hi all: Every week, I receive a number of emails at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sometimes I post the Q&As for your benefit. Here are a few that came in this month.
This one is from Laura…
Q. Barry, I thank you for your very informative blog! I’m wondering if you can point me in the direction of an image of Mary Lincoln’s dress from 14 April,1865. I had heard that the Chicago Historical Society owns it, but they only list the cape, not the entire dress. I’d appreciate any help you can give. Thank you, Laura.
A. Hi Laura: Thanks for writing me. You are correct that the cape is at the Chicago Historical Society. Unfortunately, I am unfamiliar with whatever happened to the dress Mrs. Lincoln was wearing that night.
After the assassination, she spent the evening at the Peterson House and did not leave until they removed her husband’s body and transported it back to the White House on the morning of April 15.
According to the autobiography of Elizabeth Keckley, who was a slave and then eventually Mrs. Lincoln’s seamstress and confident, the dress was given to a Mrs. Slade. Here is the exerpt from her book called “Behind the Scenes” or “Thirty years a slave, and Four Years in the White House” In Chapter XII, “Mrs. Lincoln Leaves the White House”, page 89.
“In packing, Mrs. Lincoln gave away everything intimately connected with the President, as she said that she could not bear to be reminded of the past. The articles were given to those who were regarded as the warmest of Mr. Lincoln’s admirers. All of the presents passed through my hands. The dress that Mrs. Lincoln wore on the night of the assassination was given to Mrs. Slade, the wife of an old and faithful messenger. The cloak, stained with the President’s blood, was given to me, as also was the bonnet worn on the same memorable night. Afterwards I received the comb and brush that Mr. Lincoln used during his residence at the White House. With this same comb and brush I had often combed his head. When almost ready to go down to a reception, he would turn to me with a quizzical look: “Well, Madam Elizabeth, will you brush my bristles down to-night?”
So Laura, this is a start. I will definitely look into it further but unfortunately I don’t have any immediate information on the whereabouts of the dress. The Smithsonian has several of Mrs. Lincoln’s dresses (one of which is going to be on display in the new exhibit that they will be opening on January 16, 2009 called Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life. But their literature does not mention that they own the dress worn during the assassination. Please let me know what you find out and perhaps we will discover the location of the dress together. Wouldn’t that be exciting.
On another note, are you a student or teacher Laura? Let me know a little bit about your background and interest in the dress. I always enjoy knowing about the people who are interested in a specific part of history.
Barry, I thank you very much for your help. I will look into the Smithsonian exhibit. A little about my background – I am a librarian in Northern Illinois who has recently decided to start First-Person Interpretation of Mary Lincoln. I have a solid theatrical background, as well as a number of friends who are active in Civil War Reenactments. They are pointing me in the right directions. I already have three bookings in February 09, and am putting together my presentation and my clothing. Thanks again, Laura
NOTE FROM BARRY: I am keeping in touch with Laura to see how it goes. It sounds like a great idea and I hope one day shortly I’ll do a blog on her efforts. Stay tuned.
This one is from Ernest…
Q: Can you give me the references for the 15 people who turned down Lincoln’s invitation? Thanks Ernest .
NOTE FROM BARRY: Ernest is referring to an article I did on the 15 people that turned down Abraham Lincoln’s invitation to join him at Ford’s Theatre on the night of the assassination.
A: Hi Ernest. Thanks for the question. There are several references for this information but the one I used was from “Lincoln: A Picture History”by Philip B. Jr Kunhardt; Philip B. III Kunhardt; Peter W. Kunhardt (1992) which is the first biography to make use of the photographs from the huge Meserve collection. I believe the 15 people named are to be found in one of the many sidebars that are included in the book.
When you read that 15 people actually turned down the President of the United States for a personal evening out with him, it initially makes you take pause. However, it has to be remembered that it was Good Friday of a long weekend so many people already had plans. As well, some of the wives who were invited did not want to be in the company of Mary Todd Lincoln whose temperment did not suit them very well. Even Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert turned him down because he had just gotten back from the serving with General Grant and was too tired to go out that night. It may seem very logical when you dig into it, but still….15 people invited and 15 regrets. Makes you wonder. Best Barry
…and this one came from Linda
Dear Sir: I am in possession of a glass negative and print of President Lincoln that I believed to be taken four days before his death. Reading your comments has clarified when and where the picture was taken. It is exposure # 3 #0-116 . Do you know if there is a market for this glass negative which appears to be in very good shape or for the print which is in pristine condition? Sincerely Linda.
Hi Linda: Nice to meet you. Can you tell me a little more about the photo’s background?
1. Is the image on the glass plate negative or positive? 2. What size is the glass plate? 3. How long have you had the glass plate and the print? 4. Where did you get the items from? 5. Is there any authenticated background history on the glass plate?
The photo you are referring to was taken on February 5, 2008 by Alexander Gardner. Gardner shot many of his photographs using a collodion glass-plate process, but I personally do not know if this process was used for this photo session. Assuming it was, the sizes were very specific for these types of photographs so that is why I asked about the size of the plate. As far as the historical record states, only one photo of Lincoln was taken in the pose (O-116) rather than having Lincoln sit still for a second exposure. Therefore, only one actual glass plate was produced. I do not know if the original glass plate is in the collection of a museum or the Library of Congress (or none of them). If what you have is the original glass plate for photo O-116 it would be quite a find for the Lincoln community. I can assist you in getting the glass plate verified but these folks would need to know its history as mentioned above. Have you taken photographs of the glass plate and the print? If so, would you be able to forward me the pictures? With your permission, I can forward them to someone who would certainly be able to comment on their authenticity. But please be aware that there is tremendous skeptisism in the Lincoln community about fraudulent photographs. It doesn’t mean that the photos are modern fakes. Many were created in the late 1800’s. I recently assisted one person with identifying a photograph which they thought was a genuine image of Lincoln after death. It turned out that it was a 19th century fake which had been seen before. But now the amazing thing is that he owns the original fake. So you never know what you have in your attic! Anyway, if I can help you to solve the mystery Linda, I’d be happy to try. Have a great evening. Best Barry
Hi Barry:I have tried to photograph the glass negative and the note that was with the package. The note is in two parts, but I will re print it here for you. The photograph and the glass negative were given to me by my late aunt before she passed away around 1991 or so. I have kept it in my china cabinet all these years and while sorting out things this week, I came across it again and decided it was time to find out if it had any value. It was originally give to my uncle Samuel Cully of Wycoff New Jersey by the widow of his friend Fred Weaver. The note says, this portrait of Abraham Lincoln was printed from a glass plate that was acquired by Samuel Cully in 1968 from the widow of a friend, Mr. Fred Weaver. Mr. Weaver’s father had been in the photographic business and died early in the twentieth century. His son found the plate in his father’s effects. The same portrait appears in the National Geographic Magazine, March 1970 issue over this footnote: “Martyred President” Peace had come and Lincoln smiled again for this photograph, made only four days before his death.” The glass negative measures 8 by 10 inches. Thank you for your time and assistance. Linda
NOTE FROM BARRY: At this point in our correspondence I’ve done some editing because I refer Linda to several sources which, for their privacy, I keep confidential.
Hi Linda: I sent your photos to <deleted> and he suggests that the <glass negative> seems too ‘pristine’ to be an original. If it was an original it would be 143 years old which would definitely show age and yellowing. He did not know if the original still exists and if it is in someone’s collection (such as the Library of Congress). So he believes, like me, that it’s a copy. Again, it may still have value as a copy. There is an artist by the name of James Nance who took that exact photograph and digitally colorized it. Now he sells a limited print of the colorize version from anywhere between $135.00 for the signed print up to just under $500.00 for a framed version. I would say that with some patience you could probably get up to $<deleted> for the glass negative. Write a good solid history of the photograph, indicate that it is a copy of the original and see what happens. 2009 will be a better market once Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 hits. <deleted>. Have a great day. Best Barry
Hi Barry: Thanks for going to so much trouble for me. The way I read the note with the negative is that it was made from the negative by my uncle or his friend around 1968. It and the negative have been carefully wrapped in tissue and an envelope and never see the light of day or wear or tear. Do you suppose that the original owner, Mr. Weaver, who was in the photographic business could have made the glass negative from a print or how would he make a glass negative? Whether it has monetary value or not, it is interesting just to investigate it all. I am Canadian but have been reading more about Abe Lincoln lately because of this. Of course I have always known that supposedly his wife was related to my grandfather. My grandfather was from Rhode Island. Of course I cannot find anything about Mr. Weaver on line with the little info I have. Unfortunately I no longer have any living relatives in the US and only cousins here who would not have any knowledge of the origins of the glass negative. Where are you <deleted> based? I am a flight attendant so travel to many cities. I could perhaps show either of you the negative in person. Thanks again Linda.
Hi Linda. I love the fact that your historical curiousity is what is driving you. That is my favorite thing too. I live in Toronto but was born in NH and raised in Virginia. I’ve been up here since 1972. What part of Canada are you originally from? I’m assuming that you live in the US now? <deleted>
There are numerous ways to make a glass plate but I’m not overly familiar with the processes. I’d guess that the negative used was probably made from a print. The quality of the print you have is very good so it would have had to be a good quality print which they started with. It’s a interesting puzzle. I’d be happy to help you as best I can. I will see if I can learn a little bit more about the photographic process as a starting point. I do travel on business on occasion so I may end up in your area someday. Let me know where you live and then we can figure out if we can mutually find a meeting place. Research is a really fun activity. As a hobby, I metal detect. Occasionally, when I find an old button or coin, I excitedly research the piece. Sometimes I can’t find exactly the info I want so I end up buying expensive reference books just to get my answer. It can become pretty obsessive at times but that is the fun of it all. Whatever you end up finding out about this Linda, enjoy the hunt. It will introduce you to some amazing characters and open up a world from the past. Finally, I encourage you to keep a diary or notes about the research process that you go through. Later it will read like a great mystery story. I’d gladly post it as an article on my blog. People love a good mystery. I look forward to talking to you again soon. Best. Barry
Hi Barry : I live in Dartmouth, NS, but pass through Toronto weekly. <deleted>. Yes it is part of the fun, but I now find I am not getting the things done that have to be done. Must run and try to accomplish some must do things. Thanks Linda
Hi Linda: Research can be time consuming but don’t put so much pressure on yourself. It will all fall into place in its own time. I am happy to meet with you whenever you are in Toronto (no rush). <deleted>. If you have any other questions or need of assistance, please email me anytime and I will do my best to help. Best Barry
Have a great day.