kottke.org posts about Abraham Lincoln

Honest Abe's photographsDec 03 2013

Lincoln Crack

Errol Morris is at it again, publishing book-length blog posts for the NY Times. This time, he's examining the photograph evidence of Abraham Lincoln and, I think, what those photos might tell us about Lincoln's death. Here's the prologue and part one (of an eventual four).

My fascination with the dating and interpretation of photographs is really a fascination with the push-pull of history. Facts vs. beliefs. Our desire to know the origins of things vs. our desire to rework, to reconfigure the past to suit our own beliefs and predilections. Perhaps nothing better illustrates this than two radically different predispositions to objects -- the storyteller vs. the collector.

For the collector the image with the crack [in one of Lincoln's photographs] is a damaged piece of goods -- the crack potentially undermining the value of the photograph as an artifact, a link to the past. The storyteller doesn't care about the photograph's condition, or its provenance, but about its thematic connections with events. To the storyteller, the crack is the beginning of a legend -- the legend of a death foretold. The crack seems to anticipate the bullet fired into the back of Lincoln's head at Ford's Theater on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.

It should have a name. I call it "the proleptic crack."

The Gettysburg Address turns 150Nov 19 2013

From the Google Cultural Institute, an engaging account of how Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address, which was delivered 150 years ago today. There are actually five surviving copies of the text of the speech written in Lincoln's hand; they're all different and we don't know for sure which one he read from. You can easily compare the different versions or see the handwritten versions. Here's the Bliss Copy of the Gettysburg Address, which Lincoln wrote down in 1864, a few months after the speech:

Gettysburg Address 1

Gettysburg Address 2

Gettysburg Address 3

The Bliss Copy hangs in The White House and is the canonical version of the speech that you learned in school, hear in movies, read on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial, etc.

Is this really Abraham Lincoln's business card?Feb 04 2013

Last week, I ran across this list of business cards of famous people, among them Isaac Asimov, Mark Zuckerberg, and Harry Houdini. There was also this curious card for Abraham Lincoln:

Abraham Lincoln Business Card

It seemed a little too jokey for a proper business card, so I tracked the card to its source, The Library of Congress. The card was likely printed in 1864 by the Democratic committee as a campaign souvenir and implies Lincoln would be defeated in the '64 election and on his way back to Illinois to practice law (and split rails).

Abraham Lincoln invented FacebookMay 08 2012

[Ed note: read the update below...this is likely definitely a hoax.] Intrigued by a possible connection between PT Barnum and Abe Lincoln, Nate St. Pierre travelled to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL. Once there, he stumbled upon something called The Springfield Gazette, a personal newspaper made by Lincoln that is eerily similar to Facebook.

The whole Springfield Gazette was one sheet of paper, and it was all about Lincoln. Only him. Other people only came into the document in conjunction with how he experienced life at that moment. If you look at the Gazette picture above, you can see his portrait in the upper left-hand corner. See how the column of text under him is cut off on the left side? Stupid scanned picture, I know, ugh. But just to the left of his picture, and above that column of text, is a little box. And in that box you see three things: his name, his address, and his profession (attorney).

The first column underneath his picture contains a bunch of short blurbs about what's going on in his life at the moment - work he recently did, some books the family bought, and the new games his boys made up. In the next three columns he shares a quote he likes, two poems, and a short story about the Pilgrim Fathers. I don't know where he got them, but they're obviously copied from somewhere. In the last three columns he tells the story of his day at the circus and tiny little story about his current life on the prairie.

Put all that together on one page and tell me what it looks like to you. Profile picture. Personal information. Status updates. Copied and shared material. A few longer posts. Looks like something we see every day, doesn't it?

Lincoln even tried to patent the idea.

Lincoln was requesting a patent for "The Gazette," a system to "keep People aware of Others in the Town." He laid out a plan where every town would have its own Gazette, named after the town itself. He listed the Springfield Gazette as his Visual Appendix, an example of the system he was talking about. Lincoln was proposing that each town build a centrally located collection of documents where "every Man may have his own page, where he might discuss his Family, his Work, and his Various Endeavors."

He went on to propose that "each Man may decide if he shall make his page Available to the entire Town, or only to those with whom he has established Family or Friendship." Evidently there was to be someone overseeing this collection of documents, and he would somehow know which pages anyone could look at, and which ones only certain people could see (it wasn't quite clear in the application). Lincoln stated that these documents could be updated "at any time deemed Fit or Necessary," so that anyone in town could know what was going on in their friends' lives "without being Present in Body."

Man, I hope this isn't a hoax...it's almost too perfect. Also, queue Jesse Eisenberg saying "Abe, if you had invented Facebook, you would have invented Facebook". (via @gavinpurcell)

Update: Ok, I'm willing to call hoax on this one based on two things. 1) The first non-engraved photograph reproduced in a newspaper was in 1880, 35 years after the Springfield Gazette was alledgedly produced. 2) The Library of Congress says that the photograph pictured in the Gazette was taken in 1846 or 1847, a year or two after the publication date. That and the low-res "I couldn't take proper photos of them" images pretty much convinces me.

Update: And the proof...the original Springfield Gazette sans Lincoln. (via @zempf)

TV appearance of Lincoln assassination witnessAug 04 2011

In 1956, 96-year-old Samuel Seymour appeared on a game show called I've Got A Secret...his secret was that he saw Lincoln's assassination when he was five years old.

That blew my mind. (via devour)

Spielberg's Abe Lincoln movieNov 19 2010

It's called Lincoln and will be a collection of the talents of Steven Spielberg (director), Daniel Day-Lewis (plays Lincoln), Doris Kearns Goodwin (wrote the book), and Tony Kushner (screenplay).

It is anticipated that the film will focus on the political collision of Lincoln and the powerful men of his cabinet on the road to abolition and the end of the Civil War.

Gladstone's voiceAug 12 2010

William Gladstone was very nearly Abraham Lincoln's exact contemporary, both born in 1809 (Lincoln was 10 months older), only he was born in Liverpool, not Kentucky. He was a legendary orator and liberal lion, like an approximation of Lincoln and Ted Kennedy. He served as a member of parliament for almost 50 years, including as Prime Minster four times, before retiring in 1894. (Could you imagine if Lincoln had lived until 1894?)

He also had a great nickname: G.O.M., for "Grand Old Man." His Tory counterpart Disraeli called him "God's Only Mistake."

In 1888, a recording was made of Gladstone's voice on a phonograph cylinder and sent to Thomas Edison. So even though we don't have Lincoln's voice, we have Gladstone's. This is a section of the text he read:

The request that you have done me the honour to make - to receive the record of my voice - is one that I cheerfully comply with so far as it lies in my power, though I lament to say that the voice which I transmit to you is only the relic of an organ the employment of which has been overstrained. Yet I offer to you as much as I possess and so much as old age has left me, with the utmost satisfaction, as being, at least, a testimony to the instruction and delight that I have received from your marvellous invention. As to the future consequences, it is impossible to anticipate them. All I see is that wonders upon wonders are opening before us.

Via Max Deveson at the BBC.

Update: Lainey Doyle tips me that the audio link above is most likely of a recording misattributed to Gladstone. There have been a few disputed Gladstone recordings. Either:

  1. Edison hired an actor to re-record Gladstone's lines
  2. Gladstone sent someone else to read for him

and Edison either:

  1. passed it off as Gladstone's voice anyways or
  2. collectors later falsified it or got confused.

Anyways, the following clip has been put forward as a more credible candidate for being an actual recording of octogenarian Gladstone (reading the same text, which if true throws doubt on the whole "he sent somebody else to read it" theory):

Actually, I can imagine this scenario:

  1. Gladstone records his voice
  2. Edison's unhappy with the quality, asks Gladstone to re-record it
  3. Gladstone sends a friend to tell Edison to sod off,
  4. Edison says, fuck it, let's loop it, who knows what Gladstone sounds like anyways

Clearly, Kate Beaton needs to draw this comic.

In Love With A. LincolnFeb 27 2009

The link o' the day is this illustrated Maira Kalman tribute of Abe Lincoln, in which she realizes she's falling in love with him and wonders about his reaction to Frida Kahlo's self-portrait.

Punk Abe LincolnFeb 09 2009

Another photo of Lincoln taken a couple months before he died, featuring a surprisingly contemporary hairstyle.

Punk Abe Lincoln

Abe looks downright rebellious in that photo. (via flickr blog)

Earliest Abe Lincoln photo?Feb 05 2009

The Kaplan Daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln is purported to be the earliest known photo of the 16th President, taken in the early 1840s when he was in his early 30s. The young man in the photo doesn't bare an obvious resemblance to a photo taken of Lincoln a few years later but the forensic evidence is compelling.

Numerous accounts have revealed that Lincoln underwent a noticeable change in his physical appearance beginning in January 1841 as a result of a grave emotional crisis. This coincides with his reported failure to go through with his scheduled marriage to Mary Todd, leaving her literally waiting for him at the altar. (They were married the following year.) This emotional crisis, just one of a series of such episodes to plague him throughout his life, was the cause of Lincoln losing a considerable amount of weight.

Dreaming of Honest AbeNov 04 2008

Someone keeps having dreams about Abraham Lincoln.

And then he hugs me and I think, 'Abe Lincoln hugged me. He smells like Old Spice.' I ask him who he supports in the election, and he smiles and says, "Believe it or not you're the first person who's asked me that this year; of course I support Barack. These so called Republicans remind me of Copperheads." And then he laughed sort of sad a deep ha ha ha laugh and I woke up.

The Copperheads were a group of Union Democrats who opposed the Civil War engineered by Lincoln's Republican administration. An anti-Lincoln pamphlet produced by the Copperheads -- titled Abraham Africanus I. His Secret Life as Revealed Under the Mesmeric Influence. Mysteries of the White House. -- brings to mind the ham-fisted attempt to characterize Barack Obama as a Muslim and terrorist.

Has Abe Lincoln been discovered in theNov 19 2007

Has Abe Lincoln been discovered in the background of a pair of photographs taken right before the Gettysburg Address?

The new photos are enlarged details from much wider crowd shots; they were discovered by a Civil War hobbyist earlier this year in the vast trove of Library of Congress photographs digitized since 2000, and provided to USA Today. They show a figure believed to be Lincoln, white-gloved and in his trademark stovepipe hat, in a military procession.

The funny thing is, if you look at a similar photograph of Lincoln taken shortly after his speech, there are at least three men seated around him who are wearing stovepipe hats. The photographic evidence alone is not compelling. "Paging Errol Morris. Would Errol Morris please come to the information desk. Thank you."

Timelapse video of a map showing CivilMay 22 2007

Timelapse video of a map showing Civil War battles and movements...four years of war in four minutes. The video was produced by Harvest Moon Studio for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Historical rankings of US presidents. Honest AbeNov 21 2006

Historical rankings of US presidents. Honest Abe is number one with a...well, he's just #1. George W. Bush comes in at a respectable 22nd, just behind Bill Clinton. (via fakeisthenewreal)

Tags related to Abraham Lincoln:
photography Civil War video war Errol Morris

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