Monday, June 25, 2007

Yard Sale Treasures

A Florida fireman purchased a box of photographs from an estate sale. He didn't go through them at first; he pushed them aside. Then, one morning while his wife was making breakfast, he began to sift through the aged images. His heart stopped. It couldn't be real. There was a note dated 1858 and it was signed, A. Lincoln.

It couldn't be! Could it?

It would be years before Joseph Skanks would know for sure. Finally, after consulting several experts, he was led to "History Detectives," a television show looking for new investigations for its upcoming season. They sent the letter to Springfield, Illinois, where John Lupton put the note under the microscope. Skeptical, Lupton looked for the distinctive characteristics of Lincoln's handwriting--and he found them. The letter that the Tampa firefighter purchased for eight bucks at a yard sale was estimated to be worth $25,000.

The short letter was written by Abraham Lincoln on Aug. 2, 1858, to Henry Clay Whitney, a political ally of Lincoln's and a fellow circuit court lawyer. According to the Springfield Journal Register, the note reads:
Yours of the 31st. is just received. I shall write to B.C. Cook at Ottawa and to Lovejoy himself on the subject you suggest.

Pardon me for not writing a longer letter. I have a great many letters to write.

I was at Monticello Thursday evening. Signs all very good. Your friend as ever A. Lincoln.

The episode of "History Detectives" will air on August 27. Skanks was flown to Springfield where he was forced to await the news of the letter's authenticity in order to add drama to the show. He also had the opportunity to visit the Lincoln Museum where he was moved to tears by the Civil War exhibit that tallies deaths as the war progresses. He plans to sell the letter, since being a firefighter doesn't pay all that well.

Tom and I often speculate on the undiscovered treasures in attics and basements across the world, and wonder how many are tossed, unknowingly, into the trash. There are discoveries left to be made. . . . Happy Yardsaling!
Happy Birthday, Ambrose

Ambrose Bierce was born on this day in 1842. After a prolific and controversial life, he disappeared while reporting on the Mexican Revolution. One determined priest believes he has found the chronicler of America's Civil War. From the website of Don Swaim:

For many years James Lienert, a former American priest serving in Mexico, has doggedly pursued the theory that Ambrose Bierce was executed and buried in 1914 in a small desert town in Mexico. At his own expense, Lienert installed a gravestone to memorialize Bierce in the graveyard where Lienert presumes Bierce is buried. I don't know the truth, but the possibilities are intriguing. In several emails to me, Lienert explained his reasoning and supplied the pictures below. What follows may be more than anyone wants to know about the presumed burial place of Ambrose Bierce, but there may be eager new biographers in the waiting.

At right, Leinert in the cemetery he believes contains the remains of Bierce. Visit Don's website for more on this intriguing tale. Perhaps this would make another great episode of "History Detectives." ("History's Mysteries" was better!) is devoted to Bierce's life and legacy and even has a link for the Bierce trilogy filmed by Kansas City filmmaker Don Maxwell.
Kansas City CWRT

I'm speaking tomorrow night on my favorite subject--the parallel lives of Mary Lincoln and Varina Davis (left). Email for details if you're interested in attending.

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