NEW YORK – The image is haunting, depicting a gaunt-faced man with a familiar beard, staring ahead lifelessly. The right eye is bulging and appears disfigured from an unseen wound.
Some experts believe the man is Abraham Lincoln, captured hours after the nation's beloved 16th president succumbed to an assassin's bullet on April 15, 1865, a heretofore unknown photo of incalculable emotional and historic value.
Others dismiss the mere possibility.
The original ambrotype image is locked away in an Illinois safe deposit box, the subject of court fights and accusations of robbery and, on Sunday, a Discovery network documentary that attempts to unravel the mystery behind it.
“In the world of authenticating, this is like finding the Holy Grail,” said Whitny Braun, a California investigator whose effort to determine if the photo is real is traced in Discovery's special, “The Lost Lincoln.” The man who claims to own the image is suing to halt the show from being aired.
After looking into it for two years, Braun said she's 99% convinced the photo is genuine. She and the special's producer, Archie Gips, say it makes too much sense for it to be real than not.
Discovery, meanwhile, is putting its reputation on the line. The network is either telling the world of an historic treasure or producing the 2020 version of “The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults,” Geraldo Rivera's laughingstock 1986 special that revealed an empty safe.
“I've seen enough of these things to know that this is a whole lot of hysteria about something that is not Lincoln,” said Harold Holzer, whose 1984 book, “The Lincoln Image: Abraham Lincoln and the Popular Print,” traced the 130 known photographs of the former president.