Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Who's That Tall Fellow in the Stovepipe Hat?

During the summer of 1941, the Ottawa Daily Republican-Times ran a grainy photograph showing a Civil War-era crowd standing in front of a house which they claimed was the only photograph known to exist of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas from their debate series.

Since then, every reference to this photo has included the newspaper clipping, but the photograph has never been authenticated since the original disappeared and the newspaper reproduction isn't clear enough for study.

This summer, three Civil War researchers reported that they found the original in Somonauk.

Bevin Wold, Chet Wold and Gerard Brouwer were looking for information on volunteer soldiers from Leland. Their search led them to the Marie Louise Olmstead Memorial Museum. There, displayed in a period frame on the wall, was the "lost" photograph, exactly where it had been for decades.

Attached to the frame was a small note indicating that the photo was of Lincoln on the day of the debate. The house has been identified as that of Henry F. Eames, a local banker, and the carriage is similar to one preserved bythe La Salle County Historical Museum in Utica. Tradition says that carriage transported Lincoln to the debate in Ottawa.

The photograph was removed from the Marie Louise Olmstead museum and taken to a photographer's to be reproduced and enlarged for further study. The three researchers are clearly thrilled to have found this important bit of history, hidden in plain sight, and they are busy trying to put names to the faces in the crowd.

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