Feb. 9, 2017
Rare Lincoln photo honors retiring university librarian
For more than a century, a photograph of Abraham Lincoln, taken a month after the Battle of Gettysburg, was unknown to Lincoln scholars.
Since its emergence in 1969, the portrait, in its original mahogany frame, has become famed as one of six in a series of photographs taken by eminent photographer Alexander Gardner on the day he opened his Washington, D.C., studio.
Now the portrait will also be associated with Carl A. Kroch University Librarian Anne R. Kenney, in whose honor Stephan Loewentheil, J.D. ’75, recently donated the 1863 portrait to Cornell University Library.
“This is a unique print, and I wanted to give it in honor of Anne, who has been a unique person in the history of Cornell’s library,” Loewentheil said. “She helped the library move from an important collection of books into a repository of significance in the digital age.”
After a 30-year career at Cornell University Library, Kenney will step down as university librarian April 1 and retire at the end of a six-month research leave.
“I’m deeply honored by Stephan’s gift, and so pleased that this important portrait will be preserved and, whenever possible, shown alongside our other magnificent Lincoln and Civil War materials, such as the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address,” Kenney said.
Gardner took more portraits of Lincoln than any other photographer. On Aug. 9, 1863, Lincoln inaugurated Gardner’s new photography studio by sitting for six portraits.
“I went down with the President to have his picture taken at Gardner’s. He was in very good spirits,” Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay, wrote of the visit.
Hay kept this portrait for himself, and it was unknown until Hay’s grandson had it identified and evaluated in 1969. The other five portraits were sold.
Hay lived at the White House and served as Lincoln’s secretary until 1864. He was present when Lincoln was shot and later served as secretary of state.
Among other gifts from Stephan and Beth Loewentheil to the library are thousands of photographs, including the recently digitized Loewentheil Collection of African-American Photographs, and the Comte de Paris photographic album, an archive of Civil War photographs, which became Cornell University Library’s 8 millionth book.
Loewentheil said he was inspired to give this particular gift because it would link Kenney with the rich Lincoln and Civil War materials in the library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, which are an important part of Cornell history.
“It’s my hope that when the great Lincoln documents are shown, the great Lincoln photograph will be shown, to honor Anne’s part in the long chain of history that makes Cornell’s a great institutional library,” he said.
Melanie Lefkowitz is a writer for Cornell University Library.