Mysterious Donation After a Mysterious Stolen Painting of Abraham Lincoln

By David J. Kent

Washington D.C.

Saturday, May 29, 2021



On a dark and stormy night, well, dark at least, a mysterious thief slunk into City Hall in Norwich, CT and cut a portrait of Abraham Lincoln out of its frame. The night was 1994. The portrait had been painted around 1865 by artist John Denison Crocker. The frame hung empty until 2011 when the town held a contest to replicate the original. Ellen Mayhew was one of about 62 artists to enter a portrait into the contest.


She lost.


The contest itself became contentious as several artists complained of unfair treatment. Eventually it was settled and a winning painting hung. While someone else's painting now graces the walls of City Hall in Norwich, Mayhew's portrait began its lonely storage in a corner of her studio, having been displayed publicly only once during the contest review.


Mayhew, now 72 years old and an artist since 1974, decided the long-stored Lincoln portrait needed a home. And what better place, she thought, than a town named after him - Lincoln, Rhode Island.


Lincoln, the town, separated from its neighbor Smithfield in 1871, six years after Lincoln's assassination. They decided to name themselves after Abraham Lincoln, who had visited Rhode Island prior to his presidency. The first time was in 1848. He had completed the first session of his single term as a U.S. Congressman and was invited by the Whig party to give pro-Zachary Taylor speeches in New England, mostly in Massachusetts. A second trip in 1860 occurred after his famous Cooper Union speech. Stops on that trip included Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. The post-Cooper Union speeches in particular helped improve his visibility for the upcoming Republican party presidential nomination. Many argue that the speech, and the follow up speeches in New England, made Lincoln president.


It also got him the town of Lincoln, Rhode Island.


Mayhew delivered her portrait of Lincoln to the Lincoln Town Hall, where it will be displayed for all to see.


More information about Mayhew and the portrait can be read here: https://www.valleybreeze.com/2021-05-19/cumberland-lincoln-area/mayhew-donates-portrait-abraham-lincoln-town-hall#.YLIm9o2SmUm


[Photo Credit: Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod, found at the link above]