DECATUR - A Decatur photographer interested in taking a photo of "the biggest man" at the Illinois State Republican Convention in 1860 probably didn't realize he was giving Decatur a memory to be proud of a century and a half later.
Edward A. Barnwell took a photograph of Abraham Lincoln in his Decatur photography studio at 24 N. Water St. on May 9, 1860, a day before the beardless Lincoln was nominated for the presidency.
Millikin University officials announced Friday evening at Millikin's Blue Connection that prints of the historic Barnwell photo of Lincoln are available for the public to purchase. The Barnwell photo is the only known photo taken of Lincoln in Decatur.
The photo, which has been in the possession of the Decatur Public Library since 1947, when Barnwell's daughter Grace donated it, was digitally reproduced with the help of Millikin University.
"We thank the Decatur Public Library for their faith in this project," said Ed Walker, chairman of Millikin's art department, to the crowd Friday. "Today is the official day of the Barnwell photograph."
When asked how the photograph was reproduced, Walker said the glass positive thought to be made from the existing print the library also owns wasn't in good condition to use.
"We worked from the original photograph," he said. "With digital technology, we cleaned it up Â¦ and were able to reproduce the photo."
Two other photos of Lincoln taken by Alexander Hesler in 1860, as well as a photo taken by Matthew B. Brady after Lincoln won the presidency, are available for purchase through Blue Connection. Blue Connection is offering the photos in commemoration of the Bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birthday.
Historian Mark Sorenson, who said there are only 130 known Lincoln photos in the United States, revealed new information Friday night about the Barnwell photo.
Through his research, Sorenson said he has reinforced the idea that Barnwell did not distribute his Lincoln photograph but instead kept it as a family heirloom. Brady's photo, on the other hand, was distributed all over the country, he added.
City Librarian Lee Ann Fisher said that since possessing the photograph, library officials always saw the photo as a way to benefit the library, even after the rumors in 2003 of selling the photograph. Fisher added that though they had options with the photo, "it never suited what we wanted to do."
The collaboration with Millikin University not only gave them a win-win choice, but also saved history and brought it to the masses.
"We wanted to make it available for people to see, (where) it's not locked away," Fisher said. "We wanted to share this with Decatur and the world."
All proceeds from the photo will go toward the Decatur Public Library's efforts to build a local history room.
Alicia Spates can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 421-6986.