Police & Courts

Lawsuit claims image of Lincoln on deathbed stolen

Abraham Lincoln
Wikimedia Commons
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jan. 30, 2019 10:00 am Updated: Jan. 30, 2019 10:44 am

QUINCY -- A rare photo of President Abraham Lincoln on his deathbed is at the center of a new lawsuit.

Filed last week in Adams County Circuit Court, Quincy auctioneer Larry D. Davis claims that Jerald A. Spolar of Macomb has a deathbed glass-plate image -- or an ambrotype -- of Lincoln taken in the Washington boarding house where he died after being shot in Ford's Theater. Davis bought the image from a descendant of Lincoln in 1984.

The lawsuit asks the court to order Spolar to return the image to Davis.

Davis alleges that an ex-wife, who is not named in the lawsuit, stole the ambrotype in the fall of 1996 and sold it to Spolar. The lawsuit said Davis recently learned that Spolar had the ambrotype.

In the lawsuit, Davis said that he bought the ambrotype from Margaret Hanks Schrieber in 1984 after she agreed to sell a collection of ancestral items.

Hanks Schrieber lived at 3500 Broadway, according to the lawsuit. The Hankses of Quincy were descendants of Dennis Hanks, a cousin of Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks.

The lawsuit describes the ambrotype as a "macabre image of the upper torso of a man lying in bed dead."

Hanks Schrieber reportedly told Davis that the photo was of "cousin Lincoln" taken on his deathbead.

She died Sept. 1, 1986.

The lawsuit said that Davis and Hanks Schrieber became friends in 1982, and he would often bring her and her husband, Milton, food on Sundays, as they lived "in squalor and had no running water."

The lawsuit said Davis contacted famed Lincoln collector Lloyd Ostendorf to examine the ambrotype. Ostendorf agreed and invited then-Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, who also was a Lincoln memorabilia collector.

The reported meeting took place at the Executive Mansion in Springfield, where Ostendorf told Davis that the ambrotype must be a forgery.

However, the lawsuit claims that both Ostendorf and Thompson offered to buy the image for $25,000, though Davis was not interested in selling it.

When asked by the Sun-Times, which first reported the lawsuit, Thompson denied the meeting ever took place.

Davis said after he discovered the ambrotype and other items from Hanks Schrieber were missing from a safe, he was visited by two men at Davis Auction, who asked questions about the ambrotype. Davis believes the two men were agents of Spolar.

The lawsuit also alleges that Spolar visited Davis in 2007 to buy a print taken inside Lincoln's tomb and exterior images of Lincoln's home.

"As he was leaving, (Spolar) asked if (Davis) if he had any copies of an image of Lincoln lying in bed after he had been shot and told (Davis) that if (Davis) ever came across any copies of such image or any other Lincoln memorabilia, he would be interested in buying the copies or other memorabilia and would like the right of first refusal," the lawsuit alleged.

Court records show a case management conference is set for May 20.

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