Is Lincoln Here?

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Most important of all, the modest throng visible in the Neidig picture (perhaps an invitation-only greeting committee or the “cavalcade” of local leaders who had officially welcomed Lincoln to town the day before) faces not the photographer but the tall, top-hatted man looming in the background. A smaller figure is at his side. Their faces are even more shadowy than those in the Richards pictures, but might this not be Lincoln and Tad? Both appear to be sitting in a horse-drawn carriage; as The New York Times reported, Lincoln was transported through Philadelphia in a “barouche” pulled by “four white horses.” And Lincoln did wear a top hat that day; one photo of the ceremony shows him clutching it.

Only a few months ago Neidig enlarged his photograph and discovered yet another intriguing detail. Flanking the rear door of Independence Hall, as if waiting for the tall figure just arriving, are two men, one standing rigidly, the other slouching insouciantly. Something about them struck Neidig, and he consulted period portraits of Lincoln’s private secretaries, the stiff German-born John G. Nicolay and the carefree, informal John M. Hay. They had indeed accompanied Lincoln from Illinois to Washington in 1861 and attended the Philadelphia flag raising. Logic suggests they would have arrived in advance and waited for their chief—there perhaps to be fixed by the camera. The figures certainly resemble the pair.

Weighing all this pictorial evidence—the site, the soldiers, the bare trees, the hour, the formally attired crowd, the torn sign, the greeters at the door, and the tall man in the top hat arriving to evident fanfare—the question becomes: If not Lincoln at Independence Hall, then who, and why? Neidig admits: “I began my research a skeptic. I questioned everything I learned. I didn’t want to be the claimant for another supposed new Lincoln photo only to find later the identification was based on faulty analysis. But after a hard-fought battle with myself, I really believe this one is authentic.”

“Into the history of Philadelphia,” a local newspaper predicted of Lincoln’s Philadelphia visit 137 years ago, “this event will enter, and years hence when the now truant states are returned to the Union’s fold, our grandchildren will read of it with gratitude.” Perhaps they will now see it as well, with more clarity than ever, through the lens of a camera focused for the very first time in American history on a President-elect. Lincoln himself called the experience “an exceedingly interesting scene.” It still is.