Public gets to vote on supposed Lincoln portrait - Quad-Cities Online: Illinois

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Public gets to vote on supposed Lincoln portrait

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Posted: Saturday, August 29, 1998 1:00 am

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- The experts have had their say on the 155-year-old portrait and they can't decide whether it shows a young Abraham Lincoln or some nobody with a vague resemblance.

Now the rest of us can cast a vote on the question -- by dropping ballots into a stovepipe hat, naturally.

With the questionable daguerreotype going up for auction in October, folks at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency decided to have a little fun.

They set up a display Friday at the Old State Capitol -- where as a young lawmaker Lincoln gave his ``house divided'' speech -- so visitors can study the portrait and vote. The voting is open until Oct. 5, the day before the portrait is to be sold.

Early results don't look good. By an 8-3 margin, voters were declaring the 1843 portrait non-Lincoln.

``I just, overall, do not get the impression I'm looking at the same man,'' said Maren Egbert, who visited Springfield's array of Lincoln historic sites Friday with her husband and four sons.

``His eyes were different,'' agreed her 12-year-old son, Kevin.

Kim Bauer, curator at the Illinois State Historical Library, came up with the idea of a vote.

``I think sometimes we historians tend to take our craft too seriously,'' he said. ``Who better but the people who love Abraham Lincoln, the people who visit the sites, to weigh in with their votes?''

Science certainly hasn't settled the issue.

One expert looked at the veins shown in the hand of the portrait subject and compared them to the pattern found in a cast of Lincoln's hand. He concluded they don't match and the portrait cannot be a young Lincoln.

Another expert used a computer program that alters people's appearance -- for instance, ``aging'' pictures of missing children -- to compare the daguerreotype to three pictures of Lincoln and 297 pictures of other men. The program matched the portrait with the Lincoln photos but not with any of the others.

The portrait shows a young man with a bulbous nose and matted hair posing stiffly in his Sunday best. His big, round ears could be Lincoln's. The nose just might be Lincoln's before worry and age left the president gaunt. The lips, too, seem to match.

When the disputed photograph goes on the auction block, it could bring up to $1 million -- if buyers are convinced it is Lincoln.

Lincoln collectors Robert and Joan Hoffman, of Pittsford, N.Y., bought the picture in 1992 for an undisclosed amount from an antiques dealer who got it from the descendants of John Milton Hay, assistant secretary to Lincoln.

But would Lincoln have approved of a public vote on his portrait?

``Of course,'' said Bauer. ``What he stood for was continuing this great experiment called democracy. What more basic form of democratic opinion is there than to be able to cast a vote?''

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