Allen County Public Library Holds Abraham Lincoln's Spirit

Feb 10, 2017

Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is this Sunday, and some Fort Wayne residents might be surprised to learn that artifacts from his life and death are in a small museum in the basement of the downtown Allen County Public Library.

The collection includes books, newspapers and manuscripts written by or about Abraham Lincoln. There are also photographs of Lincoln and his family.

Photo manipulation is not a new practice. Spirit photos were common in the 1800s. This photo was taken in 1872.
Credit Courtesy/Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection

“This is the last photo taken of Lincoln during his presidency, and if you’re a spiritualist, this is the last photo taken of Lincoln, in 1872," says Jane Gastineau, a Lincoln librarian, pointing to a picture of Mary Todd Lincoln, Abe’s wife. The photograph shows a ghostly image of the former president behind her.

“It’s called a spirit photo,” Gastineau explains. “This guy’s good because the hands are actually over the shoulders. A lot of others you see there’s just some sort of ghostly thing behind floating around, could have been a double exposure, could have been anything, but this guy’s good.”

No one is really sure how the photographer managed to create the image, although there are some rational theories. Or perhaps you’d like to believe that Lincoln’s ghost made a final appearance on film, like Mary Todd Lincoln did.

“She found that photo very comforting,” Gastineau said.

Gastineau says anyone can view the artifacts, including the photograph of Lincoln’s “ghost,” but they should make an appointment first. Parts of the Lincoln Collection are also in the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis.

To schedule an appointment, or to talk to a Lincoln librarian, call 260-421-1378. Gastineau has been with the collection since it was owned by Lincoln Financial and housed in what is now Citizens Square in Fort Wayne.

When the company left Indiana, it left what was the largest private collection of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia in the Hoosier state, despite many other museums attempting to gain control of the artifacts. Most of the three-dimensional pieces are now at the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis, and most of the documents are in the basement of the Allen County Public Library.

Curt Witcher, the manager of special collections at the library, says he thinks Indiana was chosen because their proposal included plans to digitize the documents, which they have. There are now more than 33,000 digitized books, newspapers, photographs and manuscripts from the Lincoln Collection available online.