Exploring the “body” theme as it played out during and after Lincoln’s life took me to dozens of libraries, sometimes for brief visits and sometimes for extended stays. Visual sources mattered to me as much as verbal sources did, since I wanted to know how sculptors and photographers, as well as poets, dramatists and novelists, had portrayed his physical qualities in relation to his moral and political life.
A cultural history relies on public and private sources of all types. Fortunately, many of the most interesting private materials— diaries, letters, photos and manuscripts—have long since been published, and some of those items have been made available on the web. Many of the public sources—books, newspapers, magazines, engravings, lithographs and other artwork—have also been put online. Still, much material can only be seen inside libraries. There are other good reasons to spend time in them: conversing face-to-face with archivists and other researchers points you to material you would otherwise have missed. And of course turning the pages of actual newspapers (the large size of which will surprise many younger readers), or holding the actual leaves of private letters, gives you a tactile tie to the experiences of people in the past.
Any Lincoln researcher will do well to begin with “Lincoln on the Web” at the Journal of American History.
This JAH listing was created in 2009, and it’s been updated since then. It gives guidance on both visual and verbal sources.
On the topic of Lincoln’s body, I found seven libraries the most useful of all.
The three that I mention first offer fellowship programs for advanced graduate students and established scholars:
(1) American Antiquarian Society, Worcester MA
The Antiquarian Society offers an exceptional array of 19th-century newspapers in hard copy, including many from small towns (e.g., Bedford PA Gazette; Bloomville NY Mirror; Paducah KY Federal Union; Little Falls NY Journal and Courier; Malone NY Palladium; Pottsville PA Democratic Standard). In 1865, in northern municipalities small and large, Lincoln’s assassination provoked an almost universal sorrow that contained, ironically, intense and bitter disagreement: how much blame did Democrats deserve for having created after 1861 an anti-Lincoln atmosphere that led to his murder? How much blame did Republicans deserve for persecuting Democrats after the assassination, despite their earnest pro-Lincoln sentiments (they had come to see his apparent moderation on Reconstruction as an endorsement of their views). Local weekly newspapers across the North disclose a firestorm of animosity between Republicans and Democrats over Lincoln, with both sides mourning the loss of him and claiming more allegiance to his dying vision than the other.
The Society’s extensive graphic arts collection (now partially digitized in “GIGI: the AAS Digital Image Archive”) contains an excellent assortment of Lincoln materials. In the additional “AAS Digital Projects,” don’t miss the website “Northern Visions of Race, Region and Reform,” which includes choice comments on Lincoln written by southern blacks and their northern white teachers at the conclusion of the Civil War.
(2) Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, New York NY
With 60,000 documents archived at the New York Historical Society, the Gilder Lehrman Institute holdings include much Lincoln-related material, from his own striking May 7, 1837 letter to Mary Owens (displaying his ambivalence about marrying her) to the comments of blacks and whites on his death (see Lincoln’s Body, pp. 79, 85). The Institute’s beautifully conceived website includes an innovative “History by Era” sequence. Its pre-1860 segments supply fruitful context for Lincoln’s own view of U. S. history as a gradually intensifying battle between slavery and freedom.
(3) Huntington Library, San Marino CA
Besides possessing one of the premier collections of Lincoln-related manuscripts in the country, the Huntington owns many Lincoln artifacts, prints, and photos, some of them still uncatalogued. Jennifer Watts, the Huntington’s curator of photography, has just published Fearful Interest: Death, Mourning, and Memory in the American Civil War (2015), a book based on her 2012 exhibit, “A Strange and Fearful Interest,” online at http://huntington.org/civilwar. The exhibit included the Library’s striking lock of Lincoln’s hair, shown here (see Lincoln’s Body, chapter 3, for a discussion of the assassination relics in 1865).
Four other institutions feature major holdings of Lincoln-related manuscripts, newspapers, prints, photos, artifacts and ephemera:
(4) Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield IL
At the ALPLM website, click on “Lincoln” to get a sense of the library’s riches: over 1600 letters written or signed by Lincoln, plus 3000 prints and photos relating to him, 2000 articles of ephemera and art, 1000 broadsides, and 300 artifacts.
Under “Collections,” click on “Center for Digital Initiatives” to access the Sangamo Journal/Illinois State Journal from 1831 to 1865; “Chronicling Illinois,” containing a cornucopia of Lincoln-related material, including music, artifacts, and ephemera; and “Abraham Lincoln: Citizen of the World,” giving international reactions to the president’s assassination.
(5) lndiana State Museum and Historic Sites and Allen County Public Library
These two libraries jointly administer the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, an exceptional archive inherited from the former Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne IN. Along with many artifacts and visual documents that are hard to find elsewhere (e.g., the image on p. 84 of Lincoln’s Body), the collection includes countless 19th and 20th-century clippings and unpublished memoranda from out-of-the-way places.
To get an idea of the collection’s wonderfully quirky contents (and the website’s brilliantly conceived search parameters), enter “Appearance” in the search box. You will get a listing that includes-- along with books, articles, paintings, sculptures, photographs, and artifacts-- 15 manila folders of materials organized according to Lincoln’s body parts, physical measurements, and clothing and accessories: attire, height, weight, hat, head, face, hair, beard, eyes and eyeglasses, teeth, arms and hands, fingerprints, feet, and voice/diction, and a catch-all-the-rest folder labeled “physical appearance.”
(6) John Hay Library at Brown University, Providence RI
The library’s Charles Woodberry McLellan Collection of Lincolniana is one of the most notable in the U. S. It includes material of all kinds relevant to Lincoln’s post-mortem legacy: prints and photographs, sheet music, decorated envelopes, and a large number of broadsides. Brown also owns Alonzo Chappel’s massive painting of the president’s deathbed (“The Last Day of Lincoln”). One can sample the collection at the library’s online Center for Digital Scholarship:
(7) Library of Congress Abraham Lincoln Papers and Collection of Prints and Photographs
The 20,000 documents contained in the library’s Abraham Lincoln Papers are supplemented by thousands of Lincoln prints and photographs, many of them digitized and available for viewing and downloading at:
A search for “Abraham Lincoln” in the online catalogue returns well over a thousand hits, among them a unique collection of cartoons depicting Lincoln’s body (some of them are featured in my visual essay under “Images” here at richardwfox.com).
Many other libraries contain holdings relevant to Lincoln’s body. Here are some that I found very useful:
Allegheny College Library, Meadville PA (Ida M. Tarbell Collection, now online)
Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society Research Library, Buffalo NY
Chicago History Museum, Chicago IL
Genesee County History Department, Batavia NY
Illinois State University Library, Bloomington IL
Michigan City, IN Public Library
Morrison-Reeves (Public) Library, Richmond IN
Ohio Historical Society, Columbus OH (now part of the Ohio History Connection)
University of Chicago, Regensburg Library (William E. Barton Papers)