How an 1858 Abe Lincoln Portrait Went From Injured Man to Museum

An ambrotype of Abraham Lincoln taken in 1858.

A photograph of President Abraham Lincoln from before he was elected to the White House has been donated to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in his home state of Illinois.

The image was taken when he was campaigning in Illinois, not for president but for a U.S. Senate seat again Stephen A. Douglas. The Associated Press reports that one copy was was given to a man who was “severely injured while testing a cannon for Lincoln’s campaign rally.” The man, Charles Lame, would eventually overcome his injuries and pass the photograph down within his family. Mary Davidson of Hendersonville, Tennessee eventually inherited and kept the memento, according to the AP, until her death in August 2022. Her children have reportedly opted to give the photo to Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln lived for many years.

“Original images of Abraham Lincoln are extraordinarily rare, and images with a fascinating back story like this are even more rare,” Christina Shutt, executive director of the library and museum, tells the AP. “Lincoln fans everywhere should thank Charles Lame’s descendants for this generous donation.”

Lincoln’s image was taken on an ambrotype, which were used in the 1850s and are similar to daguerreotype photos. It was a local lawyer that convinced the politician to have his picture taken, the AP reports. This was the day after Lame was injured preparing a cannon to be fired during Lincoln’s rally, as per the tradition of the time. After the event, Lincoln visited Lame but was turned away by doctors. Instead, he sent Lame the photo that he would keep throughout his life.

“Lincoln’s gift was a small gesture, but it reaffirms his reputation as a man of compassion. The photo … is a physical reminder of his kind spirit and concern for others,” Ian Hunt, head of acquisitions for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, says to the AP.

The outlet added that the same lawyer, who would eventually die in battle during the Civil War, received his own copy of the photograph, though poor cleaning attempts have left it damaged. Today, it is part of the Library of Congress’s collection.

Lincoln lost the campaign he was running for at the time, but it would set the stage for his eventual rise to the presidency.

The ambrotype of Lincoln will be on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library beginning Monday, October 2.

Image credits: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum