Working on the layout for Bert Dunkerly’s upcoming To the Bitter End, I was searching for a photo of President Lincoln from 1865. As I sorted through the Library of Congress’s stash, I came across a pair of photos taken almost a year apart–the first on February 9, 1864, and the second taken 150 years ago today on February 5, 1865.
I have seen before/after photos of Lincoln from the start of the war to the end, and it never fails to move me. But this particular pair of photos, taken just a year apart, stunned me.
One year has drawn in his cheeks and deflated his chest. His face is gaunt, his hair unkempt. The lines crease his face more deeply. His tie hangs akimbo.
In 1864, he sits confident in the chair, formal yet comfortable. In 1865, his sits more upright, like he has settled onto the chair with the effort of a man whose bones are tired and his muscles sore.
His right hand is a blur. He’s winding down, wasting away, yet still in motion. Yet it’s hard not to think the hand in motion looks ghostly.
Even the quality of the prints themselves makes him look more faded, as though he’s being erased from his accustomed black into something more transparent.
Two months to the day after the second photo was taken, Robert E. Lee would surrender at Appomattox. Five days later, Lincoln would be shot by Booth. The president would die the day following, April 15, 1865.
I wonder, looking at these photos, how much of him was left by then?