History Detectives: Is This Letter From Lincoln the Real Thing?

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For those of you who may not have watched the PBS series, “History Detectives” last night, Shelbyville native and Lincoln historian, John Lupton played a central role in authenticating a document supposedly written by Abraham Lincoln in 1858.

Lupton is Associate Director of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield , IL .. His position there requires him to make sure the documents that enter into the collection are authentic.

The one-hour show featured Lupton in a 20 minute segment, filmed in Springfield at the Lincoln Presidential Library and at the old Springfield capitol building. "We did the 'detective' work at the Lincoln Presidential Library, and we filmed the segment on the context of the documents at the old capitol.”

The letter was found at an estate sale in Tampa , Florida several years ago. At that time, the owner had scanned and e-mailed copies to Lupton and Christie’s Auction Co. But without the genuine article, verification of the letter was impossible.

In May of this year, the owner of the letter, Joseph Skanks, contacted History Detectives and they went to work, bringing Skanks and his letter to Springfield to be inspected by Lupton.

However, Lupton had already recognized the shaky handwriting in the e-mail sent from Skanks. It was similar to that in a book published in the late 1800s by a lawyer in Urbana named Henry Clay Whitney. Whitney is known for producing a nine-volume set, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, which contains facsimiles of letters he had received from Lincoln .

Once the History Detectives had given the document to Lupton for inspection in the lab, the mystery of its authenticity came to light. ...

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