The Ghost of Lincoln?

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...


b said...

Cool! Do you suppose that the photographer began the exposure with the guy standing there and then stopped it for some reason and started over after the guy left? Maybe he didn't want anyone in the photo.

The skepTick said...

I thought about that. Maybe the lens cap was initially removed and then the photographer saw someone muddling up his shot. He replaced the lens cap, told the guy to move along, and then removed the cap again. I really don't know enough about these old cameras to say whether or not that would work. Seems like it would.

Anonymous said...

I just got back from the Ford Theater. Was there on Good Friday, April 10th. I took several photos of the theater and was seated on the 2nd level directly across from the Presidential Booth. After listening to the commentator replay the events of the night Lincoln was shot, I took one last photo of the Presidential Booth right where Lincoln sat and in my photo 4 green orbs appeared. All appear to be placed directly over the seats in the booth. I noticed the green orbs immediately and snapped another photo but wasn't able to capture it again. I showed the photo to a staff member, but they said they had never seen anything like it and couldn't explain why I may have captured that on my camera.

The skepTick said...

Were you using the flash? Orbs never appear without the flash.

Pretty Polly said...

Nice. :)

But of course, no ghost here.
Not only was the procedure very lengthy, as you indicated, but he may have used an old (already used) plate, without realising it.
It was certainly not unheard of.

Anonymous said...

I went to Ford's Theatre in August of 2009 during my first visit to DC. While in the theatre standing on the ground floor, I set my digital camera to video mode. As I scanned the theatre from left to right, I had a very clear cell lit view of the entire theatre, until I reached the presidents box. As I panned past the president's box there was nothing but black. When I past the box as I continued to pan right, the balcony seats were very clear once again. I thought that was a little spooky. All stills I too of the president's box were very clear with no concern for lighting. Curious, isn't it.

Anonymous said...

I think my concearn with the second photo would be that there is a shadow behind the "ghost" I haven't seen a lot of true ghost photos with shadows. As you notice in the first picture there were no shadows around the ghost. Just something to mull over for you :)