The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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November 20, 2011

The youth who sketched Lincoln

Portraits painted by Geneva’s Freeman Thorp are among

— Abraham Lincoln’s stop in Geneva was not on the agenda.

Nevertheless, en route to his inauguration, on Feb. 15, 1861, Lincoln spent 30 minutes in Geneva because the train required some minor repairs.

For 17-year-old Freeman Thorp, Lincoln’s minor inconvenience was a major break. Thorp, who was already at the station to watch the inauguration train pass through town, was equipped with a pencil and piece of cardboard. When the president walked onto the rear platform of his coach and began to address the crowd, Thorp climbed onto the iron railing of the president’s car, inch as close as he dared to the president, and went to work making a sketch. Thorp also jotted down a “descriptive delineation”:

“Hair dark brown Beard dark brown in front of the ears and at the ends but light brown from the ears down to the middle of the chin upper lip only shaved Eyebrows heavy Eyes blue gray set much in shadows but clear and well defined, complexion nearly florid nor pale but dark a slight mole on the right cheek in no way disfigured his face figure tall and slim, not slender: but muscular features strong rugged expression earnest animated thoughtful with inherent kindness.”

In 1879 Thorp revisited his sketch and notes about the president’s appearance on that dreary afternoon in Geneva 18 years earlier. Working in his Washington, D.C., studio Thorp that year began his portrait of Lincoln, a composite that drew upon his first-person observations and sketches, as well as interviews and photographs.

“I studied him very carefully ... memorizing his expression and how he looked when animated,” Thorp would later write to the Joint Committee on the (U.S. Senate) Library, which purchased Thorp’s Lincoln painting for $2,000 in 1920.

According to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum website, Thorp’s Geneva sketch is evidently the only live sketch that was done of Lincoln as he traveled to Washington in February 1861. The painting that was conceived by the sketch hangs in the Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol and bears, in both in the lower and upper right-hand corners, the artist’s signature, “Thorp.”

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