Historian retells tale of rare Lincoln photo A photograph of Abraham Lincoln lying in an open coffin (AP Photo / Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum)
Historian retells tale of rare Lincoln photo
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It's one of the most famous photographs of Abraham Lincoln. That's because no one knew the picture of the president existed. Not until a 14-year-old boy found it.

Ronald Rietveld, the boy who made the discovery, is now a retired historian. He will donate his original notes about the picture to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois.

The photo marks one of the last chapters of a story that began in April 1865. It was just days after Lincoln was assassinated in Washington. His body was being taken to Springfield for burial. On a stop in New York City, a photographer was allowed to take a picture of the president.

Lincoln's secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, heard about the photograph. He ordered it and copies destroyed. All were, except for one sent to Stanton.

Rietveld enters the story in the early 1950s. As a teenager, he was fascinated by Lincoln. Rietveld attended the dedication of a collection of Lincoln-related items at the University of Iowa.

Harry Pratt was the state historian of Illinois and a Lincoln scholar. He was so impressed with Rietveld that he invited him to Springfield to see the 16th president's home and tomb. Pratt also let Rietveld look through papers of John Nicolay and John Hay. They were White House secretaries when Lincoln was president.

Rietveld came upon an envelope. It was sent to Nicolay in 1887 by Stanton's son. The son explained that he'd found some of his father's papers. He thought Nicolay might want them.

"Then I opened up the folded sheet of plain stationery and there lay a faded brown photograph," Rietveld wrote in an article. It appeared in Abraham Lincoln Online.

At first he didn't believe what he was seeing.

"My first reaction was, 'This can't be' because I knew Lincoln photography well enough to know there were no photographs of Lincoln in the coffin. There were no such pictures, period," Rietveld, now 77, said last week.

Pratt told Rietveld to keep quiet about the photo until he could determine its authenticity. Rietveld returned home to Iowa where he didn't say a word to anyone.

On the morning of Sept. 14, 1952, his mother shook him awake. His grandfather had just called. A picture of Lincoln was all over the front page of the Des Moines newspaper, with Rietveld's name front and center.

"She wanted to know what I had done wrong," said Rietveld, chuckling at the memory. "I told her I didn't do anything wrong. I'd found the photograph during the summer in Springfield. The AP (Associated Press) had put my name all over the country."

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COMMENTS (24)
  • Ashley0207-yyca
    10/08/2014 - 08:59 p.m.

    I think this article is amazing because a teenager found an Abraham Lincoln picture. I think the picture is very spooky because the photographer had taken a picture of Abraham Lincoln's tomb. I don't agree because a teenager found an Abraham Lincoln picture in a library book in the last chapter. I learned that it is sometimes possible to find a historical pictures and things from long ago. I am amazed because I never knew people sometimes found historical things.

  • QuincyM-Wal
    10/16/2014 - 02:39 p.m.

    am so sad and i wash byou can be avle and help i meso so bad

  • ashleighb-Hyl
    10/17/2014 - 12:56 p.m.

    WOW!!!!!!! That's amazing that there is an unknown Lincoln photo of Lincoln in an open coffin. It was really fun reading this article with my class. :)

  • tylero-Hyl
    10/17/2014 - 12:56 p.m.

    I cant belive they found aa raar photh.I realy liked this artical.I also cant ba\eleave they let some one take a picher of him.

  • kaylal-Hyl
    10/17/2014 - 12:56 p.m.

    I thought this was the best online artical i ever read.I love how they explained how he found it and that i was a rare fhoto.This boy is very lucky tto have gotten this picture.I wish i could have a rare photo like thay\

  • robertd-Hyl
    10/17/2014 - 12:58 p.m.

    I had know idea a 14 year old kid found the only picture of Abraham Lincolin. Why would they take a picture of some one not alive. Its rude!

  • michaelc-Hyl
    10/17/2014 - 12:58 p.m.

    I think this is a cool thing to happen to someone .It was good to find something so rare.

  • peytoni-Hyl
    10/17/2014 - 12:59 p.m.

    I think this is really amazing.I never knew that there is a photo,that I never knew about in my life.I am really amaze that there is an photo of Abraham Lincoln in his coffin.

  • aliciac-Hyl
    10/17/2014 - 12:59 p.m.

    I think Rietveld was an lucky guy. If I found that picture I would be amazed. I mean he got a tour of where Abraham Lincoln lived. How Lucky.

  • lancec-Hyl
    10/17/2014 - 12:59 p.m.

    The article was cool because this person named Ronald Rietveld found this picture
    of Abraham Lincoln

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