Springfield, IL

The Crazy Story Behind Abraham Lincoln’s Coffin Photo


Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States. His reforms and contributions to America are the most important in the history of the united states. He boosted the US economy, carried America through the civil war, abolished slavery, and saved its position in the world.

Working as a lawyer, a politician, and a state head, the great leader was fated to an assassinated death in 1865. His final resting place is in Springfield, Illinois, known as Lincoln Tomb.

The 400-City Tour

After the death of Abraham Lincoln, his dead body was carried in 400 cities before it reached the final destination of Illinois, where it was to be buried, these cities included New York, Ohio, and Indiana. The Widow of Abraham, Mary Lincoln, ordered the war secretary Edwin Stanton, to forbid the photographers from taking pictures of her dead husband. This wish was respected by Stanton, and photography was strictly forbidden.

However, when the body reached New York, 120,000 people gathered in the rotunda of City Hall, where Abraham's casket was placed in the open. Union Gen. Edward E. Townsend allowed a volunteer to photograph the body. The photographer was named Jeremiah Gurney Jr. Abraham's face was captured blurry, but the entire gathering scene was visible.

Destruction of the Photograph

When Stanton became aware of the forbidden act, he immediately ordered the destruction of the photograph and every copy that existed at the time. However, one copy of the picture survived and was sent to Stanton to be preserved for history; Stanton presented it to Abraham's son Robert.

Still, Robert had no interest in the photograph. Stanton kept the single copy with him secretly until he died, after which it was transferred by his son to Lincoln’s secretary, named John George Nicolay, who also kept it hidden from the outside world.

In 1952, a teenage boy found the photograph in a file of papers belonging to the secretary.

The Great Discovery

The teenage boy named Ronald Rietveld was a 14-year-old Lincoln historian who discovered the only photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken in his coffin. He belonged to Des Moines, Iowa. Illinois' state historian Harry Pratt invited Ronald to Springfield. He was taken to the Lincoln-Horner room in the Centennial building.

Ronald was an aspiring historian curious to learn more about Abraham Lincoln's administration. He was going through the files which belonged to Lincoln's secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay. This was when the young historian came across two envelopes. The first envelope he opened contained plain stationery.

Realizing that he was missing something, Ronald opened the second envelope. What he saw was astonishing. A faded brown photograph showed the exact scene from Lincoln's coffin in New York. He immediately concluded it to be the only surviving photograph of Lincoln's casket, discovered 100 years later.

Ronald took a photograph of Harry and excitedly showed what he had just found. Harry, at first, did not believe his discovery. But after a while, when he analyzed the photograph, he claimed it to be 99% authentic. The same scene from New York showed Lincoln and his associates standing nearby. The date of the picture and the place were precisely accurate.

The Discovery on Headlines

On 14th September, the news headlines were flooded with Ronald's picture, describing him as the discoverer of Lincoln's photograph. The photograph took over magazines and news channels. It was indeed the most remarkable discovery made by a young historian. Today, many books cover this story and mention Ronald's name with it.

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