A Disney-animator has inadvertently stumbled upon what he thinks is only the second known photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken on the same day he delivered his famous speech at Gettysburg.
Christopher Oakley discovered the photo — the second of a pair of stereographic images — while working on the Virtual Lincoln Project, an effort to develop a three-dimensional animation of Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address. He found it while combing through historical photos taken on that famous day.
The Smithsonian explains how Oakley made the discovery:
When Oakley made his breakthrough, he was studying an enlargement of one of the images in dispute, a wide crowd shot of the ceremony. To create it, the professional photographer Alexander Gardner had employed a new technique called the stereograph. Two lenses created photos simultaneously, which yielded a 3-D image when seen through a kind of early View-Master. The choicest stereograph views were mass-marketed to the public.
Oakley wanted his animated 3-D re-creation of Gettysburg to feature a Sgt. Pepper-esque collage of the dignitaries who were seated with Lincoln on the platform. While trying to distinguish them in the right half of Gardner’s first stereo plate, he zoomed in and spotted, in a gray blur, the distinctive hawk-like profile of William H. Steward, Lincoln’s secretary of state. Oakley superimposed a well-known portrait of Seward over the face and toggled it up and down for comparison. “Everything lined up beautifully,” he recalls. “I knew from the one irrefutable photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg that Seward sat near him on the platform.” He figured the president must be in the vicinity.
Oakley downloaded the right side of a follow-up shot Gardner snapped from the same elevated spot, but the image was partly obscured by varnish flaking off the back of the 4- by 10-inch glass-plate negative. “Still, Seward hadn’t budged,” he says. “Though his head was turned slightly away from camera, he was in perfect profile.” To Seward’s left was the vague outline of a bearded figure in a stovepipe hat. Oakley leaned into the flat-screen monitor and murmured, “No way!” Zooming in tight, real tight, he stared, compared and sprang abruptly from his chair. After quickstepping around his studio in disbelief, he exulted, “That’s him!”
But not everyone agrees with Oakley. Back in 2007, John Richter identified a different man in the left side of the stereographic image as being Lincoln. This excellent interactive graphic illustrates it rather nicely.
Here’s the only other image known of Lincoln at Gettysburg:
There’s much more to this story at the Smithsonian.