Abraham Lincoln Gettysburg Address Photo: Historians Disagree About Which Man Is Actually Lincoln

By Josh Lieberman on September 25, 2013 5:36 PM EDT

lincoln
Historian Christopher Oakley says he has spotted Abraham Lincoln among this crowd at the Gettysburg Address. (Photo: Library of Congress)

A new analysis of a photo taken during the famous Gettysburg Address shows Abraham Lincoln among the crowd, becoming only the second-known photo of the president during that historic event. That at least is the claim of Christopher Oakley, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. Oakley, a Lincoln historian who used to work as a Disney animator, has caused a stir in Civil War circles with his claim, as the purported image of Lincoln looks like nothing more than an "ink blot," as one rival historian claims.

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The photo in question was taken in November 1863 (obviously) by Alexander Gardner. Gardner's photo is a stereograph, a revolutionary type of photo in which two lenses snapped photos of the scene simultaneously to create a 3D image when viewed through a special device. Oakley was studying an enlargement of the Library of Congress image when he suddenly saw Lincoln among the crowd. As Smithsonian magazine reports,

Oakley leaned into the flat-screen monitor and murmured, "No way!" Zooming in tight, real tight, he stared, compared and sprang abruptly from his chair. After quickstepping around his studio in disbelief, he exulted, "That's him!"

That same photo is the very one that John Richter, the director of the Center for Civil War Photography, said contains Lincoln as well -- but Richter's Lincoln is to the side of Oakley's Lincoln, on a horse. So which one is the real Lincoln?

To verify his claim, Oakley overlaid a portrait of Lincoln created a few days before the Gettysburg Address. With the portrait of Lincoln overlaid on the Gettysburg photo, the likeness to Lincoln does seem convincing. Plus, Oakley pointed out a few features of Richter's Lincoln that he said doesn't make much sense: on Richter's Lincoln, there is no visible mourning band on the hat; the beard is too long and too full; and the hair is also too long, coming over the man's collar and ears. Richter's Lincoln also appears to have military epaulets.

You can judge for yourself on the Smithsonian's site, where they've created an interactive photo comparison tool. One man can't be convinced, and that is Richter himself.

"It's like looking at an ink blot," Richter told Smithsonian. "If you want to see a butterfly, you can see a butterfly. Personally, I don't see Lincoln."

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