WASHINGTON — The Library of Congress on Wednesday unveiled three photo negatives -- long mislabeled -- of the crowd that gathered at the Capitol for Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address on March 4, 1865.
"It's exciting to find additional images related to the Lincoln presidency," said Carol Johnson, curator of photography at the Library of Congress. She specializes in 19th century photography and played sleuth to match the negatives to the correct event.
"It was a wet, rainy day, most people have on long overcoats and hats. . . . You can see some people's expressions -- some who seem to be cheering, one guy raising his hand."
A reader browsing through the Library of Congress' online Civil War photographic collection noticed three glass negatives identified as taken during the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, either at his inauguration or at the Grand Review of the Armies.
The reader, from Berthoud, Colo., alerted the library that he did not think the labels were correct.
Johnson also thought the negatives looked more like 1865 than 1869. And an earlier cataloger had put a margin note on the side of one of them that said, "Lincoln?"
Johnson, who has worked at the library for 25 years, decided to compare the three questionable negatives to the two negatives the library had of Lincoln's second inauguration. A careful visual comparison confirmed her hunch.
"The podium for Grant's inauguration was set up differently," said Johnson, who conferred during the process with the Center for Civil War Photography in Oldsmar, Fla. "These photos matched [Lincoln's inauguration] perfectly."
Johnson made the discovery Jan. 4, and library staff members worked to update the records before announcing the find to the public. Asked why Lincoln discoveries tended to excite interest, Johnson said, "Perhaps because he was such a beloved president."
Photos and the Library of Congress' online announcement can be found at latimes.com/lincoln.