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Bits of History and Historical Fiction

A Telling Photograph

Abraham Lincoln's funeral process, New York City, April 1865 (courtesy New-York Historical Society and the New York Times via Wikimedia Commons)

In looking for a photo to accompany my review of Jerome Charyn's biographical novel about Theodore Roosevelt, I ran across a fascinating one, dated April 1865. Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession heads down Broadway in New York City, and in the background, you can see two small figures leaning from a second-story window. You can't possibly tell who they are, but it's known that the young onlookers are six-year-old Theodore and his brother Elliott.


How? Since the photo comes via the New York Times and the New-York Historical Society, you have to guess that the mansion portrayed in the photo, which belongs to the Roosevelt family, was easily identifiable, and perhaps family archives or reminiscences or plain logic reveal which Roosevelts are leaning out.


I like this photograph not only for its dramatic irony — the late, martyred president viewed by a young boy who'll eventually occupy the same office — but because even as a boy, TR read widely and had many interests. I have to think that with his sense of history, he thought back on that moment often, especially once he reached the White House.


By the way, TR later had another, more tangible connection to Lincoln, for his first secretary of state, inherited from McKinley, was John Hay, Lincoln's private secretary.

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