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Schrader: Purported Lincoln photo remains a mystery

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Photo provided)
A closeup enlargement of a portion of the Ottawa photo shows two men in back by the pillars, one of whom could be Abraham Lincoln. Another man in a white jacket is also possibly Lincoln because photos of him in such a coat during that time exist as evidence.

A framed photo dating back to August 1858 has been hanging in the Marie Louise Olmstead Museum in Somonauk for decades and has been the subject of much speculation and research over the years.

Now three Leland history buffs have renewed the effort to identify some of the people in the photo at the time of the Lincoln-Douglas debate in Ottawa and hope to prove one of the men in a tall stovepipe hat is actually Abraham Lincoln.

Time has taken its toll on the print that was made some 142 years ago from a glass negative, and the faces are almost all washed out.

The three men who decided to pursue expert opinions and employ more high-tech photography tools this summer are Gerard Brouwer, Bevin Wold and his father, Chet Wold. Bevin is a history graduate of the University of Illinois.

They believe a man in the front of the group standing outside the home in Ottawa is W.H. Wallace, who arranged details of the debate. He later served as a brigadier general in the Union Army and was killed at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.

Also evident in the photo is the carriage used to transport Lincoln to the debate and is now in the LaSalle County Historical Museum in Utica.

Once they discovered the photo still at the museum where it was written about in an Ottawa newspaper in 1941, they received permission from the museum board to remove it and have it examined.

A group from the museum board and the researchers took it to a photography studio in Chicago where photo expert David Phillips scanned and enlarged it to poster size. They counted some 50 people in the photo, with a horse and carriage and a barn in the background. The house with pillars at the corner of Paul and Superior streets was owned by H.F. Eames and was later moved to 118 E. Lafayette St. and remodeled, but still exists in the town today.

Bevin says it appears Stephen A. Douglas, the other debater, was not in the photo, but they are contacting Ottawa area historians and old-timers to try and identify others who still may be recognizable by their descendants.

More digital enhancement is needed to try and authenticate Lincoln as one figure in the photo, but the Wolds plan to pursue this until all technical methods are exhausted.

At the same time the Leland Civil War buffs are working on are search project to find out all they can about the 18 men from their town who enlisted in the Union Army in 1862.

These men, all Scandinavian in descent, were assigned to the 82nd Illinois Volunteers and were involved in several major battles during the war. More information on their research can be found at wwwthestaryflag.com.

• Barry Schrader was editor of the Daily Chronicle from 1969-1972 and later worked at newspapers in San Francisco’s East Bay. He and his wife are retired and live in DeKalb. Visit his website, www.dekalbcountylife.com, for an archive of columns. Reach Barry at barry815@sbcglobal.net or P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115.

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