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Lincoln museum to get account of famous coffin photo

Oct. 6, 2014

Ronald Rietveld was a boy of 14 when he made the discovery of a lifetime — the only photograph that exists of President Abraham Lincoln in his coffin.

On Tuesday, the retired history professor will donate to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, which has the photo, the handwritten notes — "a 14-year-old's hen scratches," as he put it — he made at the time telling how he found the historic image.

A young and aspiring historian from Des Moines, Iowa, he had been invited by Harry Pratt, Illinois' state historian, to visit Pratt and his wife in Springfield. Pratt took him to the Lincoln-Horner room in the Centennial Building, and invited him to look through the papers of John Nicolay and John Hay, White House secretaries during Lincoln's administration.

Inside a folder, Rietveld found a faded brown photograph inside a folded sheet of plain stationary.

He recognized the scene; it was the same as a sketch that had been published in Harper's Weekly of Lincoln lying in state in New York on April 24, 1865.

"I knew immediately," said Rietveld, emeritus professor of history at California State University at Fullerton, by phone Monday from Springfield. Continue reading the full article  online .

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