As Close As We Can Get: Lincoln’s Masks

Lincoln Death Mask

As Close As We Can Get

Gettysburg is more than a battlefield. It is also the home to a very good museum with a number of fantastic exhibits and artifacts at the visitor center. One artifact worth mention is the plaster mask of President Abraham Lincoln pictured above.

The practice of creating “life” and “death” masks dates far back into antiquity when men of note would allow a mask to be made of their features using plaster. Sometimes done during their life, sometimes not until after they died. These masks are the closest we may ever get to seeing what these men of legend actually looked like.

Lincoln himself had two life masks done . The first in 1860 before becoming president. The second in 1865, just months before his untimely death.  The one pictured above comes from a cast of the 1860 original. It shows a Lincoln, sans beard, before the tolls of politics and war took their toll.

For more information on the masks themselves and the story of their castings visit Abraham Lincoln Online via this link.

Lincoln: Myth or Man?

No matter how you view Lincoln seeing his face, even in plaster, is sobering. Generally considered the best President of the United States he has become more myth than man. In recent years there has been a movement to try to demystify him, to make him more human and flawed. From efforts to paint him as a racist, who only used the issue of slavery as a political tool,  to efforts underway to prove he was homosexual, Lincoln is still a touchstone for controversy.

But seeing that face, as close to reality as you will ever get, shows that he was a man upon which the history of the nation turned on. Standing in front of the exhibit at Gettysburg just adds to the over all feeling of awe at the place.