I love old photographs of Washington, DC. I like to visit the places in the pictures and see how much has changed, how much still remains. There are several self-guided historical walking tours throughout the city with informative signs marking the way. You can look at the old black & whites (or sepia tones!) taken from that location and see which buildings still stand, whether they've changed over time, if the trees are still there (they rarely are), if a business is still in business...
Ford's Theatre just had its grand reopening last night, with George Lucas and Sydney Potier on hand to receive awards. Even President Obama stopped by. It was a gala event. Fascinated by Lincoln, I even had an opportunity to see the new play "The Heavens Are Hung In Black". I loved it even though I'm sure many won't. There were definitely areas that could be improved. But I'm straying from the topic...
As part of the theater's renovation, a whole new wing was added by converting a neighboring building. The main theater itself retains its original facade, but I wanted to compare the old theater with the new. So, I went online searching for the old pix.
Here's an old, washed out photo...much of the detail is lost:
One of my favorites, with the old Esso gas station (and I really need to stop saying 'old' - it's kinda understood):
And here's a picture from 1868. After Lincoln was assassinated, all performances ended until 100 years later.
Here's a better one a day or so after the assassination - note the theater is dressed in mourning.
...and a detail of the above with men hanging around outside the Star Saloon between Ford's and Shakespeare House:
The theater was converted into offices for the War Department until tragedy struck in the late 19th century. Workers in the basement were removing support beams without providing necessary bracing, and eventually the upper floors collapsed, killing 20-30 workers. After that, the theater was left to decay and was utterly gutted until renovations took place and it returned to duty in the 1960's.
One of the best photographs, though, must be this one from the Matthew Brady collection at the Library of Congress. The picture is dated between 1860 and 1880. It's possible that it was taken soon after Lincoln's assassination since Brady was on hand to snap a pic of the box seat.
Here's a little detail from zooming in on the hires version.
Now compare and contrast the above with this next photograph which looks like it was taken from the same spot:
Notice anything unusual? Let's zoom in:
Zoom in a little more...
Could it be??
A bearded apparition in a top hat...could it be anyone other than Lincoln's ghost? Well...yeah, it could. Lincoln usually wore a much longer Brooks Brothers wool coat (very nice...I saw it today on display at the theater - the lining is embroidered with the phrase "One Country - One Destiny"). Remember back in those days that the camera shutter was nothing more than the photographer removing the lens cap for some period of time - 10 to 30 seconds. It's likely that someone was standing in the spot when the cap was removed, and then moved on. What I do find unusual is the person shows no motion blur, as is seen with the guard in the following photo of the presidential box seat at Ford's:
But what's most surprising is that I haven't heard anything about this ghostly image on the web. A quick Google search on "Lincoln's Ghost" gets me nothing other than traditional ghost hunting websites that deal with hauntings - but nothing that refers to this unusual picture. So, I throw it out there for the masses. The original, hires version can be found at the Library of Congress, here. It's an 86 megabyte TIF download, so you have been warned. Even mainstream sites make use of it, like this National Parks Service website, without noting anything unusual.
For what it's worth, the following are some pix of the theater I took today. And I didn't see any ghosts...