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Lincoln's Life Masks

Lincoln's Life Masks

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The Funeral In Springfield

After a long journey by rail, Lincoln's funeral train finally arrived in Springfield, Illinois in early May 1865

Following a stop in Chicago, Illinois, Lincoln's funeral train left for its final leg of the journey on the night of May 2, 1865. The following morning the train arrived at Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois.

Lincoln's body lay in state at the Illinois statehouse in Springfield, and many thousands of people filed past to pay their respects. Railroad trains arrived at the local station bringing more mourners. It was estimated that 75,000 people attended the viewing at the Illinois statehouse.

On May 4, 1865, a procession moved from the statehouse, past Lincoln's former home, and to Oak Ridge Cemetery.

After a service attended by thousands, Lincoln's body was placed inside a tomb. The body of his son Willie, who had died in the White House in 1862 and whose coffin was also carried back to Illinois on the funeral train, was placed beside him.

The Lincoln funeral train had traveled approximately 1,700 miles, and millions of Americans had witnessed its passing or participated in funeral observances in the cities where it stopped.

Lincoln Exhumation

The story behind the 1901 exhumation of the body of Abraham Lincoln, felled by a bullet from the gun of assassin John Wilkes Booth in 1865, began nearly three decades earlier with the actions of a bumbling counterfeiting ring in central Illinois. The ring's master engraver, one Ben Boyd, was imprisoned, and the gang was running out of counterfeit bills. The gang's leader, "Big Jim" Kinealy, came up with a plan that would restore the gang's fortunes: stealing Lincoln's body and holding it until the government paid a $200,000 ransom and freed Ben Boyd. Initially, the plot was thwarted when one of Kinealy's conspirators had too much to drink and revealed the plot to a woman, who in turn revealed it to a number of acquaintances. Soon, the plot was known throughout Springfield, Illinois, and gang had to beat a hasty retreat from the city.

Kinealy, however, did not give up. In Chicago, he opened a saloon, where one of his regular customers was a man named Lewis G. Swegles. In time Kinealy admitted Swegles to the gang, not knowing that Swegles was a Secret Service agent on the trail of the counterfeiters. In concert with Swegles and other members of the gang, the plot to steal Lincoln's body was hatched anew and scheduled for execution on the night of November 7, 1876, election day, when the conspirators figured that Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield would be deserted because people would be preoccupied with the outcome of the election. The plan was to place the body in a sack, transport it by horse-drawn wagon to northern Indiana, and hide it amid the sand dunes there until the national furor over the theft died down, ransom demands could be made, and the ransom was paid and Boyd was released.

Accordingly, that night the gang went to the cemetery, cut the lock off of the door of Lincoln's tomb, raised the marble lid of the sarcophagus, and were in the process of lifting the casket out when Swegles, whose job was to have driven the wagon into position, alerted eight detectives in hiding. The detectives rushed to the tomb, weapons drawn, but the grave robbers escaped. After their capture ten days later, Lincoln's son Robert hired prominent attorneys to prosecute them. At a trial eight months later, two men, Terrence Mullen and John Hughes, were found guilty and sentenced to a year in Joliet State Prison, where they began serving their sentences on June 22, 1877.

By 1900, the monument at Lincoln's tomb was in need of major reconstruction. Over the fifteen months during which it was being rebuilt, Lincoln's pine coffin was laid in a temporary grave nearby. Finally, in August 1901, the monument was complete and the coffin was reinterred. But in September, Robert Lincoln visited the tomb and decided that the project was not complete. Remembering the 1876 incident, he wanted to ensure that no one would ever be able to disturb the resting place of his father. So he ordered that the coffin be placed in a cage some ten feet below ground and encased in concrete. He got the idea from the burial of George M. Pullman, inventor of the Pullman sleeping railroad car.

On September 26, 1901, the new tomb was ready. When it was time to transfer the coffin into the tomb, discussion arose about whether the coffin should be opened, for there were persistent rumors that Lincoln's body was not in the coffin, and this would be the last opportunity to put those rumors to rest. Some observers thought that opening the coffin would be disrespectful, while other believed that the remains should be identified. The decision was reached to open the coffin.

Accordingly, Leon P. Hopkins and his nephew, Charles L. Willey, both plumbers, carved a piece out of the top of the lead-lined coffin, exposing the fallen president's head and shoulders. Each of the twenty-three people present said that a choking smell emerged from the coffin. Then each passed before the coffin and looked down. All agreed that the features of the body in the coffin were clearly those of Abraham Lincoln. Still visible were the whiskers on his chin, a wart on his cheek, and his coarse black hair, although his eyebrows had vanished. Also clearly visible was his black suit, the same suit he had worn to his second inauguration, although it was covered by a yellow mold.

Afterwards, the section of the coffin that had been removed was soldered back into place, the coffin was lowered into the cage, and the whole was covered with two tons of cement. Lincoln's body had been moved seventeen times since his death, but it would be removed no more.

In 1928, one of the witnesses who viewed the body, J. C. Thompson, said: "As I came up I saw that top-knot of Mr. Lincoln's, his hair was coarse and thick, like a horse's, he used to say, and it stood up high in front. When I saw that, I knew that it was Mr. Lincoln. Anyone who had ever seen his pictures would have known it was him. His features had not decayed. He looked just like a statue of himself lying there." Another witness, Fleetwood Lindley, who was just thirteen when he saw the body, was the last of the twenty-three witnesses to pass away. Just before his death in 1963, he said in an interview: "Yes, his face was chalky white. His clothes were mildewed. And I was allowed to hold one of the leather straps as we lowered the casket for the concrete to be poured. I was not scared at the time, but I slept with Lincoln for the next six months."

Credit for the condition of Lincoln's body must go to undertaker Dr. Charles D. Brown, of the firm Brown and Alexander. Assisted by Harry P. Cattell, Brown embalmed the president's body, first draining Lincoln's blood through his jugular vein. Then, an incision was made in his thigh and the embalming fluids were pumped in, hardening the body like marble. Brown and Cattell then shaved the president's face, leaving behind a tuft on the chin. They set the mouth in a slight smile and arched his eyebrows. They then dressed the president in his suit. The condition of Lincoln's body supported the claims made in a Brown and Alexander advertising flyer, which touted the benefits of their patented embalming procedure over other methods of preserving bodies: ". . .the mortal remains will be kept in the most perfect and natural preservation, and that cherished countenance looked at once more, by those who may be led to remember and repeat these holy words of consolation: 'He is not dead but sleepeth,' until we meet again in a better world."

In a letter to his mother, Army Assistant Surgeon Edward Curtis, one of two doctors who performed the autopsy on President Lincoln, described to her what happened when he found the bullet that had killed the president: "There it lay upon the white china, a little black mass no bigger than the end of my finger — dull, motionless and harmless, yet the cause of such mighty changes in the world's history as we may perhaps never realize. . .silently, in one corner of the room, I prepared the brain for weighing. As I looked at the mass of soft gray and white substance that I was carefully washing, it was impossible to realize that it was that mere clay upon whose workings, but the day before, rested the hopes of the nation. I felt more profoundly impressed than ever with the mystery of that unknown something which may be named vital spark as well as anything else, whose absence or presence makes all the immeasurable difference between an inert mass of matter owning obedience to no laws but those covering the physical and chemical forces of the universe, and on the other hand, a living brain by whose silent, subtle machinery a world may be ruled." Lincoln's autopsy, burial, and reburial site in Springfield, Illinois, attracts over one million visitors a year.

7. Oliver Cromwell’s death mask

Wax death mask of Oliver Cromwell kept at the British Museum, London, England. (Photo: Afshin Taylor Darian/CCBY2.0)

Died: 1658, aged 59.

Oliver Cromwell was another controversial figure.

He is hailed as the father of freedom by some and as a regicidal dictator by others. Everyone can probably agree that he was a force to be reckoned with.

Oliver participated in the English Civil Wars. The wars ended with the dethronement of King Charles I of England. And Oliver was one of the people who signed the king’s death sentence.

Then Oliver became the head of the short-lived Republican Commonwealth. And he introduced many reforms.

Oliver Cromwell died from natural causes. Not one, but six death masks were made directly from his face so everyone would remember this English historical figure.

Death Mask History and Famous Death Masks

The death mask is made after death from dead man’s face. The material can be plaster cast or wax. The face is covered with plaster or wax until the material solidifies. A plaster cast is a copy made in plaster in 3-D form. The face features are slightly distorted.

It can represent mold for creating portraits or memento of the death. Throughout history in some cultures death mask represented artifact placed on dead man’s face before funeral rituals. It is the final view of the deceased face. When the dead’s face is damaged, usually the cast of hands is made. Sometimes eyes are made and placed on the mask to make it look alive.

Death mask can be used for making 3-D mediums like sculpture, bust, engraving or effigy on the tomb of famous people throughout the history. Effigies are a sort of funeral art.

Dead masks were made for nobility and famous people like Napoleon Bonaparte, Isaac Newton and Ludwig van Beethoven.

In African, Native American, and Oceanic tribe cultures death mask has an important role in religious and social life. The mask can have a form of a spirit or animal. It is used to help the soul to pass into other life and to protect dead man’s spirit from evil forces. The death mask can be sacred and used in ritual like the transition from ancestors’ spirit to the heir of the family.

Mask taken from living man is called life mask. Famous life masks are Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

First, the hair and eyebrows are covered with oil so that the plaster wouldn’t stick to it. Plaster is ladled over the head. A thread is placed from the top of the forehead to the chin, that is later used to remove the mask into two halves when the plaster is hardened. The plaster mask is cleaned and filled with modeling clay or new plaster to make a 3-D mask.

The most famous specialist in making death masks is Anna Maria Grosholtz, known as Madame Tussaud. She was art tutor on the Palace of Versailles. Madame Tussaud was making death masks of executed nobility and famous people during French Revolution. She made plaster casts and then wax sculptures. The most famous French Revolution time death masks belong to Maximilien Robespierre, King Louis XVI, and Queen Marie Antoinette.

Laurence Hutton Collection of Life and Death Masks is well known and consists of images of masks. It is located at Princeton University Library, Manuscripts Division of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

The most famous death mask is probably Tutankhamun’s mask. In ancient Egypt death mask was artifact put on the deceased face and crucial part of the funeral ceremony. It was very artistic and valuable like made from gold and gems. It was not made from cast, but still it had some features of the deceased. This artifact was believed to protect the soul from evil spirits on the way to the after-world and make the dead person’s spirit stronger.

Ancient Romans used wax to portrait and save the dead man’s face features in sculptures. It is believed that they were used to give urns a human look.

Famous death mask belongs to Mary Queen of Scots. She sought asylum from her cousin Queen Elizabeth I, but she became a prisoner for 19 years in England, the land she almost ruled. She was beheaded.

Physiognomy interprets connection between outer look and personality. For these scientific studies life, masks are collected. In this way, criminal features can be studied.

In forensics death mask can be made to save the dead man’s features for later identification.

Famous criminal mask belongs to William Burke. It was taken shortly before his execution. He was a serial killer in the 19th century. Burke sold murdered bodies for use in anatomy lessons. He was sentenced to death by hanging and publicly dissected at the Edinburgh Medical College.

Phrenology focuses on measurements of the human skull. To make a model of skull both death and life mask can be used.

The famous death mask is the face of an unidentified woman drowned in the river Seine. It was used for Rescue Anne, a training manikin for teaching CPR.

Stilled Life: The Hands and Face of Abraham Lincoln by Leonard Volk

A mixture of empathy, exhilaration, and melancholy overtakes me as I spend time with these sculptures and inspect their fascinating details.

By <a href="https://www.artic.edu/authors/70/annelise-k-madsen">Annelise K. Madsen</a>

They are three separate bronzes, cast at scale. The head has the appearance of a heavy mask, its edges trace the hairline, the curves of the ears, the silhouette of the jawbone, and a sliver of the neck. The eyes are neither open nor closed, but rather absent, mere smudges of material. The clenched hands each have their own personality, with wrinkly folds of skin, palpable veins, and an abruptly disembodied state. Together, they make for an uncanny presence.

Life Cast of the Hands and Face of Abraham Lincoln, Cast in plaster 1860 cast in bronze by 1888

Here is Abraham Lincoln—rendered partially, yet convincingly. Cast from life in plaster and later replicated in bronze, the artworks offer unsettling access to Lincoln’s visage and features. My own vitality is brought to the fore in the experience of looking closely at this stilled life.

Yet this emotive response is due in part to knowing the tragic circumstances to come. The life casts were made in the spring of 1860, five years prior to Lincoln’s assassination. Their creation by sculptor Leonard Volk was very much a marker of vibrancy, of life-changing events, in fact.

Volk was an influential figure in the cultural life of Chicago in the mid-19th century, organizing early art exhibitions as well as helping to establish the Chicago Academy of Design (1866), the precursor to the Art Institute of Chicago (founded in 1879). The son of a stonecutter, Volk initially learned to carve from his father, seeking out further training in St. Louis in the late 1840s and in Italy in 1855–57. When he returned stateside, he established a Chicago studio. A first meeting with Lincoln soon followed when both were aboard a train traveling from Chicago to Springfield, Illinois, in 1858. At the time, Lincoln was campaigning for US Senate, engaged in a popular series of debates with incumbent Stephen Douglas. (Lincoln ultimately lost that Senate run.)

Lincoln’s career had been a back-and-forth journey between practicing law and holding political office (in the Illinois State Legislature and the US House of Representatives), and Volk encountered the 49-year-old Lincoln on the cusp of his next big act. The sculptor later recalled their conversation on that train, telling the future president, “Sometime, when you are in Chicago and can spare the time, I would like to have you sit to me for your bust.” Lincoln replied, “Yes, I will, Mr. Volk—shall be glad to, the first opportunity I have.” (Century Magazine, December 1881)

Two years later, in April 1860, Lincoln came to Chicago to represent a client in a court case, and Volk wasted no time. Within a couple days, the Springfield lawyer was in the sculptor’s studio for the first of what would be nearly a week’s worth of sittings, as Volk began modeling a portrait in clay.

Leonard Volk in his studio with bust of Lincoln, date unknown

Courtesy of the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

The immediate and clearly fruitful result of their time together was the production of the life cast of Lincoln’s face—intended to be a reference tool for Volk as he labored on his bust after Lincoln left the city. To make the mask, the artist coated the subject’s face with plaster, carefully avoiding the eyes and nostrils. After the material set for about an hour, Lincoln himself undertook the cumbersome next step:

“He bent his head low and took hold of the mold, and gradually worked it off without breaking or injury it hurt a little, as a few hairs of the tender temples pulled out with the plaster and made his eyes water.”

Then, filling this waste mold, or negative imprint, with fresh plaster, Volk created a positive cast, revealing Lincoln’s face as a stand-alone object with startling accuracy and detail.

Life Cast of the Hands and Face of Abraham Lincoln (detail), Cast in plaster 1860 cast in bronze by 1888

In Springfield the following month, Lincoln accepted the Republican Party nomination for president. With a knack for timing, Volk arrived there during this momentous occasion, as he already had plans to make life casts of now candidate Lincoln’s hands. For this sitting, Lincoln gripped the end of a broom handle with his right hand and made a fist with the left. The casts captured the swollen state of his right hand (a campaigner’s injury—handshaking) as well as the scars, age, and peculiarity of the pair.

Life cast of Lincoln’s right hand, showing the front

Life cast of Lincoln’s hands

Life cast of Lincoln’s left hand, showing the front

As direct impressions, the objects’ power and aura only grew in the years after President Lincoln’s death in April 1865. By the 1880s, the original plasters were in the possession of the artist’s son, Douglas Volk, who alerted sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to their existence. Consequently, the life casts provided Saint-Gaudens with unparalleled access to Lincoln as he modeled his 12-foot-tall public memorial Abraham Lincoln: The Man (Standing Lincoln), unveiled in 1887 in Chicago’s Lincoln Park.

Abraham Lincoln: The Man (Standing Lincoln), 1884–87

Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Lincoln Park, Chicago. Photo courtesy of Andrew Horne

Recognizing their importance, Saint-Gaudens also oversaw a set of castings in bronze. Volk’s originals were then donated to the Smithsonian Institution. (The Art Institute’s bronzes were given to the museum by Volk in 1891 and are not part of the Saint-Gaudens set.)

Plaster Casts of Abraham Lincoln’s Face and Hands, 1860

Leonard Wells Volk. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

This trajectory—from aide-mémoire in a Chicago studio to source material for a large-scale monument, reproductions for private patrons, and accessioning into a national collection—underscores for me that an art object, however modest or strange, can have enormous sway over how we come to see and understand our shared histories. Images of a quiet, thinking Lincoln abound.

Two sculptures of lincoln by daniel chester french

How much of this can be traced back to Volk’s mask? Lincoln’s character as a deliberate leader has been given persuasive, material form by numerous artists from the 19th century onward. Today, in our own engagement with these artworks, let us model back that contemplative stance. Public histories are not monolithic or static, and looking keenly and fully at Lincoln represents one step in a continual process of rethinking and reimagining our collective past. Lincoln is remembered as the leader who preserved the Union—an imperative feat that unfolded, we must also remember, in the very moments so many Indigenous nations were destroyed. Before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, he had supported the effort for colonial resettlement of free Blacks in Liberia. Lincoln’s legacies are multiple and conflicting.

Volk’s life casts elicit feelings of intrigue alongside discomfort. I discern humanity in the lines of Lincoln’s face and the verisimilitude of his veined hands. This visual encounter likewise prompts further reflection, from my position in the 21st century, on the contradictions and blind spots of that humanity. It reinforces for me that art can be a way forward by offering a way through.

—Annelise K. Madsen, Gilda and Henry Buchbinder Associate Curator, Arts of the Americas

The Afterlife of Abraham Lincoln

Eight photographs from the Meserve Kunhardt Collection tell the story of his assassination and a grief-stricken nation.

On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was shot dead by John Wilkes Booth. The moment of the president’s assassination has been well-preserved in the collective memory of the United States. Many Americans still remember Booth's infamous war cry, “Sic semper tyrannis.” There are innumerable portraits of Lincoln sitting in the upper balcony of Ford's Theatre, frozen in shock at the moment of the fatal pistol shot.

But what image do Americans have of the 16th president—and the nation he left behind—in the moments after the bullet passed through?

In a trove of images held in the Meserve Kunhardt Collection, one of the most interesting themes that emerges is this representation of the final, tangible traces of Lincoln's life in the aftermath of his death. (The photographs, and the family that collected and preserved them, are the subject of Living With Lincoln, a documentary premiering on Monday night on HBO.)

The eight photos provided below help to reveal, in part, a material history of the events that followed Booth's fatal shot. But they also provide an affective history: a record of emotions and reactions to the fact of the president's death, both from members of Lincoln's inner-circle as well from ordinary citizens of the newly wounded Union.

Meserve Kunhardt Foundation/Courtesy of HBO

After he was shot, Lincoln was escorted to the Petersen House, just across the street from Ford's Theatre. There, he was taken to a room that was being rented by Union soldier William T. Clark.

Later, after Lincoln was laid down in the bed, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles entered into the room. He later described the scene in his diary:

The giant sufferer lay extended diagonally across the bed, which was not long enough for him. He had been stripped of his clothes. His large arms, which were occasionally exposed, were of a size which one would scarce have expected from his spare appearance. His slow, full respiration lifted the clothes with each breath that he took. His features were calm and striking. I had never seen them appear to better advantage than for the first hour, perhaps, that I was there.

At 7:22 a.m. the following morning, Lincoln was pronounced dead, as his 6-foot-4 frame lay spread across this too-small bed.

Two hours after his passing, one of the Petersen's boarders—a man named Julius Ulke, who had spent the night bringing water to Lincoln's doctors—came into the room and set up his camera. The image above, which did not re-appear in public until 96-years after its initial capture, shows both the bed and the blood-soaked pillow where the president last laid his head.

Meserve Kunhardt Foundation/Courtesy of HBO

The image above shows the 16th president laid out in his coffin in New York's city hall. The daguerrotype is the only image of Lincoln in death that has been preserved—and it almost never existed.

Brigadier-General E. D. Townsend, seen here at the foot of the coffin, allowed the image to be captured by a New York photographer despite Mary Todd Lincoln's explicit ban on photography at the viewing. When Townsend's superiors discovered his negligence, they ordered the general to destroy the image. Yet Townsend found himself unwilling to completely eliminate this final record of Lincoln. In secret, he kept one of the photographs for himself.

The photograph was re-discovered by chance in 1952 thanks to a 14-year-old boy named Ronald Rietveld. Rietveld made the discovery after he was invited to visit the archives of John Nicolay and John Hay, the Secretary and Assistant Secretary in Lincoln's administration, in Springfield, Illinois. Rietveld reportedly recognized that it was Lincoln's coffin in the faded photograph—which he found unceremoniously stuck between pages of stationary—based on a sketch that had been previously published in Harper's Weekly.

Rietveld, who is now a retired historian, credits the beginning of his career to his teenage discovery.

Meserve Kunhardt Foundation/Courtesy of HBO

On February 11, 1865, Lincoln allowed the sculptor Clark Mills to spread oil across his face and slather it over with a thin layer of plaster paste. The result was a "life mask"—a form of portraiture that experienced a popular revival in the 19th century. The plaster mold was later used to create bronze replicas like the one pictured above.

The staff at the National Portrait Gallery/National Museum of American History suggests that the original "life mask" was meant to preserve a wizened image of the battle-worn president:

Throughout the Civil War, Lincoln was very careful to make himself "visible" to the American people. This was evidence of his dedication, and there was no better evidence of his work than the lines on his face. Lincoln was well aware of how the war had aged and tired him.

When the president was assassinated, two months after the plaster cast was made, the meaning of the mask changed.

"It is [now] impossible to look at this cast of Lincoln’s face—gaunt and careworn—and not think that it is a death mask."

Meserve Kunhardt Foundation/Courtesy of HBO

After performing the inquest into Lincoln's death, U.S. Surgeon General Joseph Barnes cut off a lock of the dead president's hair and gave it to one of Lincoln's servants, a man named Thomas Pendel. Pendel, who became Lincoln's chief doorkeeper in 1864, was noted for his striking resemblance to Lincoln: The doorman's lanky frame nearly matched the president's odd dimensions and his facial features were so uncommonly similar to Lincoln's that Pendel was sometimes mistaken for the president himself.

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It was this uncanny similarity that initially endeared the doorkeeper to Lincoln's son Tad. And it was Pendel who was ultimately left to comfort Tad after news of the president's death reached the family home and Lincoln's son came running to his father's lookalike, screaming, "Oh Tom Pen! Tom Pen! They have killed papa dead. They killed papa dead."

Later that May, Mary Todd asked the servant to put on her husband's black broadcloth coat and model his presidential office suit in a posthumous portrait painted by the famed Boston-based artist William Morris Hunt.

Though Pendel was later described as a "simple, uneducated" man, his possession of this snippet of hair, cut from the head of his dead presidential doppelgänger, along with the elegant broadcloth, made him a person of particular interest for Lincoln's archivists.

Meserve Kunhardt Foundation/Courtesy of HBO

In addition to Booth, a number of other Confederate sympathizers were arrested for their alleged involvement in a conspiracy that also included plans to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Eight of the conspirators were ultimately arrested and brought to trial. Edwin M. Stanton—Lincoln's secretary of war, who had maintained a close but tempestuous relationship with the president and stood with him in his final moments at the Petersen House—took charge of the imprisoned assassins. He did not take his job lightly.

Stanton demanded that the alleged conspirators be forced to wear the canvas hoods pictured above. The hoods, which Stanton had custom-designed for the prisoners, covered the entire head, leaving only a small hole for eating and drinking. Additionally, the hoods were secured by being tied tightly around the necks of the prisoners. The heavy canvas covering was made even more miserable by the sweltering heat of a Washington summer. Yet above all these other discomforts and cruelties, these hoods were intended to create a feeling of near total isolation. The seven male conspirators were forced to wear these hoods day and night (the one female prisoner, Mary Surrat, was spared this punishment). One of the hoods worn by prisoner Lewis Powell required extra padding in order to stifle his attempts at self-harm.

Stanton, in reaction to Lincoln's death, is perhaps best remembered for his poised, eulogizing phrase, "Now he belongs to the ages." The image of the prison hoods, however, preserves evidence of the darker sentiments of the war secretary in the months that followed the president's death.

Meserve Kunhardt Foundation/Courtesy of HBO

Old Bob, Lincoln's favorite horse, is shown here being readied for Lincoln's funeral. The horse, originally named Robin, was used by Lincoln when he rode circuit as a young attorney in Illinois. Old Bob, whose epithet was meant distinguish him from Robert Lincoln ("Young Bob," age 22) was 16 years old at the time of Lincoln's death.

On May 4, the old horse was transported to Lincoln's hometown of Springfield, Illinois, where he plodded behind the $6,000 crystal, gold, and silver Hearse the carried the body of his owner.

Yet the most striking moment in the life of the elderly animal may have come the day before, when Old Bob was draped in a mourning blanket and trotted out riderless on Chicago's Michigan Avenue. There, the caparisoned horse was reportedly accompanied by 10,000 school children wearing black sashes, each of them mourning Old Bob's former rider.

Meserve Kunhardt Foundation/Courtesy of HBO

The Reverend C.B. MacKee has long been known, in certain circles, for his assiduous recording of the weather in D.C. and the surrounding regions from 1858 to 1865. For persnickety Civil War buffs, the accuracy and regularity of the minister's weather records make them an invaluable resource. Historian Robert K. Krick credits the foundation of his opus, Civil War Weather in Virginia, to the fastidious work of the "Old School Presbyterian" minister, whose records were rescued and preserved by the Weather Bureau in the 1950s.

For those who are not so invested in the history of meteorology, however, MacKee may be of interest more for the details left out of his weather book than for those he included.

One notable entry in MacKee's weather book, pictured above, is dated April 15, 1865: "Last night at one of the Theatres the President of the U. States was killed by an assassin."

MacKee took the news of the president's death hard. An unrepentant Unionist, he had been forced to leave his congregation in Lewinsville, Virginia after the town was occupied by rebel troops in 1861. After fleeing to Washington D.C., he was recruited into official government service by the War Department. The preacher developed a reputation for devoted record-keeping that may have matched his faith in a higher power. On April 15, however, he faltered.

"This horrible transaction" MacKee wrote on the day of the president's death, "had such an impression on me that I neglected to record the temperature at 2 and 10 p.m."

Meserve Kunhardt Foundation/Courtesy of HBO

This image is—debatably—the last photograph of Abraham Lincoln ever captured. William H. Mumler, a former engraver, became known in 1860s Boston for a particular brand of "spiritual" photography. Mumler's images frequently revealed ghosts lingering behind his flesh-and-blood subjects. These ghost images became particularly popular in the aftermath of the Civil War, as Mumler's photographs would frequently—and not inconveniently—reveal friends or family members who had been lost in combat. Among the mourning customers who visited Mumler was Mary Todd Lincoln, who sat before the spiritual photographer roughly four years after her husband's assassination.

Mary had already been attracted to the rising tide of American spiritualism before her husband's passing. After the loss of her son Willie, she had turned to mediums to communicate with him beyond the grave. Naturally, Mumler's portrait of Mary Todd revealed a ghoulish Abraham lurking just above and a little behind his widow's shrouded head.

By 1869, many Americans had become suspicious of Mumler's miraculous images. P.T. Barnum—of Barnum & Bailey's fame—denounced the photographer in his book Humbugs of the World and testified against him during a famously contentious trial for fraud (Barnum's public shaming of Mum was later endorsed by Harry Houdini).

Despite these high-profile doubters, however, Mary Todd Lincoln remained faithful to the image of her late husband.

‘Dental Issues’ Is an Understatement

Washington began losing his teeth in his 20s. By the time he was president, he didn’t have any left.

Being toothless was common for the over-50 crowd in the 18th century, simply because dental hygiene wasn’t that advanced. In those days, having dentures was a status symbol.

Washington’s dentures weren’t functional the way modern false teeth are. He couldn’t eat with them, he couldn’t talk with them, and, because they were spring-wired to pop open, they were extremely painful to wear—he had to strain to keep his mouth shut. Understandably, he only wore them for portraits and public appearances. And it’s only recently that Washington’s teeth came out again.

“For a long time, in fact until 20 years ago, the dentures were not ever placed on public display,” says Susan Schoelwer, senior curator at Mount Vernon. “It was thought that it was sort of an invasion of privacy to show Washington’s teeth, and that it was indelicate.” But they were eventually brought out because “it was something that people were interested in,” she says. “And it is the most asked about item in the museum.”

Washington’s teeth tell us about historical changes in dental hygiene, but they also reveal something about his endurance. Because Washington lost about a tooth a year between his 20s and his 50s, “he must have been in pain much of the time,” Schoelwer says. That means that when he was crossing the Delaware in the cold, Washington’s gums were on fire.

The eerie masks that preserve history and breathe life into the dead

Masks are one of the few things on the earth that connect all of humanity throughout time. We have created masks since our very beginnings in order to disguise, protect, or entertain. They have been used by cultures around the globe for performances and rituals, ceremonies and festivals. Most notably, masks hide our identities, and allow us to become something we’re not.

Death masks are a continuation of an ancient tradition. However, far from being masks which conceal, they are masks created to reveal.

Lincoln in Art: The Leonard and Douglas Volk Collection

Copy of Volk’s Life Mask of Abraham Lincoln

Leonard Volk was an American sculptor famous for making one of only two life masks of Abraham Lincoln. Volk was born in Wellstown (now Wells), New York, in 1828, and his family later moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, for his father’s trade as a marble cutter. Volk joined his father in this work, and he later went to St. Louis in 1848 to study drawing and sculpture.

In 1852 Volk married Emily Clarissa King Barlow, whose cousin, Senator Stephen A. Douglas, supported Volk’s art and provided financial assistance for Volk to study in Rome. Volk settled in Chicago upon his return and opened a studio there in 1857. Douglas also introduced Volk to Abraham Lincoln, and Volk spent years making close studies of both Lincoln and Douglas throughout their political careers.

Douglas introduced Volk to Lincoln in 1858 when they were running against each other for the Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate, and Volk asked Lincoln to sit for him so he could make a bust. Lincoln agreed, and two years later during his visit to Chicago in April of 1860, he sat for Volk. Volk made a life mask using wet plaster to reduce the number of sittings that would be needed for a bust. The life mask and subsequent bust that Volk created became extremely useful to later artists who depicted Lincoln in sculptures or paintings. Volk recalled the process in an extract from “The Lincoln Life Mask and How It Was Made”:

Volk asked Lincoln if he could make casts of his hands as well to use for works in sculpture, and once again Lincoln agreed. He sat for Volk on May 20, 1860, two days after the Republican Party nominated Lincoln for the presidency. Volk reminisced of the experience:

Volk went on to build a reputation as a leading figure in Chicago’s arts scene through his work and teaching. In 1866, he and other artists formed the Chicago Academy of Design, which would later become the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He created numerous portraits, busts, and monuments through his career, including his Douglas monument in Chicago and statues of Lincoln and Douglas in the capitol at Springfield.

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Douglas Volk, c. 1922

Leonard and Emily’s son, Stephen A. Douglas Volk (who went by Douglas Volk), was born in 1856 and followed in his father’s path to became a noted figure in the art world as a figure and portrait painter. Douglas grew up in Chicago, and at the age of fourteen he moved to Europe to study art as his father had. When he returned to the United States in 1879, he worked as an instructor at the Cooper Union, the Art Students League of New York, and the National Academy of Design. In 1886 Douglas helped establish the Minneapolis School of Fine Art, Minnesota, and served as its director until 1893. Douglas had three of his works exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, one of which was awarded a medal. Douglas also completed a series of portraits of Abraham Lincoln throughout his career.

Copy of Volk’s Abraham Lincoln hand casts

The Leonard and Douglas Volk Collection, 1872-1953 (MS 400) contains personal and professional papers of Leonard and Douglas Volk, including correspondence, publications, sketches, and other materials. Douglas’s materials are primarily connected to the later years of his career with a focus on his Abraham Lincoln portraits. The IHLC also holds copies of Leonard Volk’s face casts of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, along with a copy of Lincoln’s hand casts and a sculpting mallet used by Volk.

Lincoln Memorabilia. New York, NY: Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., 1953. Call number: 973.7 L63E3V88L

Volk, Leonard W. History of the Douglas Monument at Chicago. Chicago, IL: The Chicago Legal News Company, 1880. Call number: 973.71 D74Wv

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