New Faces Revealed in Lincoln Death Painting

One-of-a-kind work by Carl Bersch is being restored
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 12, 2015 7:00 PM CDT
Updated Oct 17, 2015 8:26 AM CDT
'Eyewitness Painting' of Lincoln's Death Gets a New Life
"Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands," by Carl Bersch.   (Library of Congress)

The sole "eyewitness painting" of Abraham Lincoln's murder is finally being restored—a process that's revealing haunted faces and the figure of a dying president, the Smithsonian reports. Painted by German immigrant Carl Bersch, who happened to be sketching a Union victory parade that night, "Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands" is partly obscured by varnish, dirt, and old paint after more than 35 years with the National Park Service. Now a studio called Olin Conservation in Great Falls, Va., is removing the grimy layers (and fixing possible water damage) to show what Bersch saw outside Ford's Theatre on the night of April 14, 1865, the Washington Post reports. "I think we're seeing stuff that we haven't seen in generations," says chief conservator David Olin.

That includes a cop who appears to be "pulling the fold of a flag aside" as he gestures for Lincoln—bandaged and carried by bystanders—to be moved across 10th Street NW to a boardinghouse where he lived out his last moments, the Post notes. Also emerging is a couple that appears to be hugging in the crowd lit by oil lamps and torches. Then there's a woman "looking at you, the viewer, like, 'Oh, my God,'" says a senior Olin conservator. "Mouth open. Horror. ... She looks just in shock." When the restoration is done, Olin says some paint will be reapplied "dot-by-dot" before Bersch's work is shown in the Ford's Theatre complex. As Bersch once wrote, "Altogether it was the most tragic and impressive scene I have ever witnessed." (More Abraham Lincoln stories.)

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