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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Inkwell used by Lincoln signing Emancipation Proclamation sold for $68,500. Photo courtesy of Bonhams & Butterfield.
When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, witnesses noticed his hands shaking. Lincoln feared he was making a big mistake, some historians say.

Maybe his generals wouldn’t back him. What would happen once so many former slaves were free, members of his Cabinet worried?

It’s sometimes described as a moment of moral courage for Lincoln. A trembling hand. A gut feeling. A signature.

Lincoln understood there was a moral law concerning slavery that canceled out any man-made law. Ending slavery was now a key goal of the war.

Eventually there would be no more auction blocks for slaves. No more drivers lash.

“I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper,” Lincoln said. “But I have been receiving calls and shaking hands since nine o’clock this morning, til my arm is stiff and numb. Now this signature is one that will be closely examined, and if they find my hand trembled they will say he had some compunctions. But anyway, it is going to be done.”

We’ll never know for sure why his hands were trembling. Historians guess, but in the end we’re left with one gaugeable result. Lincoln signed a document that led to the freeing of more than a million people.

So much about the man is steeped in folklore and fable. We get tangled up trying to sort out the fine points. Maybe that’s how it should be. We seem to need our heroes to be heroes. Lincoln understood the responsibility that came with being free. So much so, he demanded that right for slaves.

Estimates show a new book, pamphlet or brochure about Lincoln gets published every three to four days. More has been written about Lincoln than any other historical character with the possible exception of Napoleon.

This fascination extends to the collectibles arena as well. Lincoln’s inkstand used during his presidency and in the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation came on the block at Butterfield & Butterfield in Los Angeles on Oct. 18, 1995, and sold for $68,500.

Offered in the “Manuscript & Historical Collectibles” sale were other Lincoln items. Documents signed by Lincoln supporting the military commissions of several individuals sold for $5,175, $4,600, and $3,450.

A letter signed, “A. Lincoln to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton” brought $17,250. Letters from Mary Todd Lincoln to her friend Alexander Williamson, written after her husband’s assassination, realized $13,800, $10,925 and $10,925.

Dear Rosemary,

I was drawn to your Jan. 12 column by the Himmler photo. I was in Berlin with the first American troops in June 1945, and one of the first places we wanted to see was the bunker where Adolph Hitler was alleged to have died.

On the steps leading up to and into the front of the Chancellery, I saw among numerous pieces of correspondence and papers strewn around the area, a signed photograph of Adolph Hitler. It had been exposed to the elements and a portion of it sustained damage from the rain. However, it did not distort the picture. It was covered with the dirt of the times.

I know this picture came from the building, because of its environment and feel confident that it is an authentic autograph. Its significance, particularly in the proximity of the Reich’s Chancellery, as well as the famous bunker, of course makes it more relevant to me as a person who was there at the time.

I had done some research and found this particular picture of Hitler was a gift he gave to special friends. It was framed in solid silver.

My guess is the Russian who took the picture from inside the Chancellery was more interested in the silver than the photograph and thus discarded the photograph, unaware of the historical significance.

I treasure the photograph, not out of admiration for the subject, but for the historical significance. It reminds me of the era in which I grew up, going to school from 1927 through 1939, when Hitler was the dominant figure of the times, and then through 1945, when he was brought to his knees.

Time will undoubtedly erase his importance to those who will know of him only through history books. But to those who grew up with this man’s perpetual image, Hitler has made an impression as deep and indelible as the Great Depression.

Samuel Sciullo, Pittsburgh

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