This glass plate negative held a great secret for nearly 90 years. Taken on November 19th, 1863, it shows a part of the crowd -estimated at 15,000 people -who gathered for the dedication ceremony of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg.
This picture came to the National Archives in 1897 and sat in the collection until 1952, when Josephine Cobb, Chief of the Still Pictures Branch, noticed something truly remarkable about it. Off to the left of the great pole in the background is an area where dignitaries were seated. Cobb thought one of them looked familiar.
What she discovered is the only known image of Abraham Lincoln taken at Gettysburg on the day of his famous address. A Library of Congress website on the Gettysburg Address explains:
"To the immediate left (Lincoln's right) is Lincoln's bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, and to the far right...is Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania. Cobb estimated that the photograph was taken about noontime, just after Lincoln arrived at the site and before Edward Everett's arrival, and some three hours before Lincoln gave his now famous address."
There is an awful lot of activity going on in this image. The photographer has not only captured Abe Lincoln bareheaded at one of the greatest moments in our nation's history, but if you look carefully at the detail at right you will also see a Federal officer who appears to be blowing his nose, or perhaps coughing into a white-gloved hand. It is candid moments like this that make history really come alive.
Usually the image is cropped to focus on the President, and indeed he is quite lost in the crowd in the original view. Lincoln had a long wait in the stands before making his brief but eloquent address.
The name of Massachusetts orator Edward Everett, whose speech is remembered for its length and not its content, is also the name of one of the loveliest mountains in the Berkshires, while the home and studio of Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the statue at the Lincoln Memorial, is also in the Berkshire Hills. Lincolns words, however, belong to the ages.