Long-Lost 1913 Lincoln Film to Premiere at the Putnam

Francis Ford as Abraham Lincoln in 'When Lincoln Paid'
Francis Ford as Abraham Lincoln in When Lincoln Paid (Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

A couple of years ago, a local contractor was demolishing a barn in Nelson, N.H., when he came across a 35mm Monarch projector and seven reels of film. He donated his find to the Keene State College Film Society, which has determined that at least three of the films appear to be the only surviving copies of long-lost movies, including When Lincoln Paid, a film on an incident in Abraham Lincoln’s life, starring and directed by movie pioneer Francis Ford, the older brother of and greatest influence on famed director John Ford.

This brittle and damaged 30-minute two-reeler is of such historical significance that it easily won support from Tag Gallagher (author of John Ford), the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, and the National Film Preservation Foundation, who rallied to restore the film. After being lost for 97 years, When Lincoln Paid will premiere in the Mabel Brown Room in the Student Center on Tuesday, April 20, at 4 p.m. and again in the Putnam Theater in the Redfern Arts Center, thanks to the sponsorship of the KSC Film Archives, Special Collections/Mason Library, the Film Studies Dept., and the KSC Film Society. The film is important for its historical theme, its place in film history, and for what it has to show about the techniques that influenced John Ford. The screening is free and open to the public.

Both Ford brothers were fascinated with Abraham Lincoln and made him the subject of many of their films. “There is nothing I like better than to play Lincoln. I have a big library devoted to this great man, and I have studied every phase of his remarkable character, and when I am acting the part, I can feel the man as I judge him,” Francis Ford is quoted as saying in an article by Ford scholar Tag Gallagher.

“Francis Ford is one of the most fascinating persons in film history…And he is known as the man who taught John Ford.” Gallagher said in a letter he sent in support of restoring When Lincoln Paid. Francis Ford made the first spectacular westerns in 1912, some of the first detective movies, and one of the first serials.

“Between 1912 and 1915 he played Abraham Lincoln in at least seven pictures. Alas, all of these pictures are lost. For nearly a century no one has been able to see Francis Ford as Lincoln,” Gallagher explained. “So now…to be told that I may get to see Francis Ford as Lincoln is thrilling news indeed.”

Check out these film clips from When Lincoln Paid. The first shows Confederate soldiers ambushing and pursuing John Wade, one of the film’s principal characters. The second shows Mrs. Wade pleading with Abraham Lincoln (played by Francis Ford) for the life of a young Confederate soldier.

2 thoughts on “Long-Lost 1913 Lincoln Film to Premiere at the Putnam

  1. Thanks, Michael. So we’ll see you at the screening? Did you watch the clips? Very cool indeed.

  2. I’d really like to see this film but unfortunately have to work. How about another, evening screening??

    Also, what were the other films that were found?? More info, please!!

    Marilyn Simons ’97

  3. This is amazing and should bt in the Smithsonian for safekeeping. How wonderful something like this has survived all this time. I am a History buff and this is part of it.

  4. Can anyone explain why a film from 1913 is under copyright? I understand that a lot of time, money and effort went into the film’s restoration, but does that give the university a legal right to a product made almost a century ago by persons unrelated to Keene? Just wondering.

  5. I think its wonderful that you have found such an indearing film.
    My hats off to you. It would be wonderful if people could get this film on DVD. I for one would cherish it. Thanks for let me see the clips they are remarkable

    Kenneth A Dietrich

  6. This was an unbelievable find and the restoration process is mind boggling. I grew up with stories about the silent films my parents saw and this really gives the stories a new dimension. My parents were born in 1899 and 1904 so they saw every movie that they could . Now I wonder———did the see this one?

  7. i have always liked books about Ab Lincon and this is amazing to me, i hope you guys get more info.

  8. The large type across the image – copyright Keene State College is an insult on many levels – but it also gives a bad impression of the college itself – caring more about copyright than the film is how i interpret that large size font. From what i understand it was donated, a gift from Peter Massie who found it – considering it was a gift, would you consider posting the film on line to share without such large copyright protection? Thanks.

  9. How cool is that. Thank goodness the barn was “cool” too. As a Lincoln collector would love to see the film, but am in Texas. Can the PBS channels give it an airing? Will DVD’s ever be available? It is not surprising that the film was made four years after Lincoln’s 1809-1909 birthday celebration. So many things were done to mark his 100th, and so few to mark his 200th.
    Thanks for preserving this piece of American history.

  10. A 1913 film cannot be copyrighted. Regardless of the time and expense that surely went to restoring the film, such efforts cannot serve to “re-copyright” a creative work whose copyright has expired. For example, if I take a representative photograph of the Mona Lisa, I cannot claim copyright to the image of the artwork. That said, an owner–such as Keene State College–is not bound to share freely what they physically own.

    I agree with the previous poster – claiming copyright for a public domain work reflects poorly on the college.

  11. Yes! Another screening, please! An evening screening so us working stiffs can come appreciate this amazing find! And if it could be brought to Red River Theatre in Concord, and other community theatres, that would be terrific.

  12. Read about this film in the April 14 issue of The Bangor Daily News. Wish I could be there to see the film. Hopefully this and the other found films will be available for purchase sometime soon. It would be nice to have a PBS program if you would prepare one.

  13. Very interesting find … BTW today is the 145th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination.

  14. I’m stunned at the high quality of this film, especially after 100 years. It looks on par with a film made 30 years later.

  15. It’s a great find “When Lincoln Paid”. I learned of the find through a blurb in USA Today and couldn’t believe it, then I remembered Nitrateville.com website where they talk about all things silent films. There were seven cans of nitrate found and at least two of them contain a copy of “When Lincoln Paid”. Someone already asked, what were the titles of the other films that were found? or have they been restored yet?
    The Keene College logo on the films doesn’t bother me as much cause it happens all the time. Bigger institutions that restore silent films ie Turner Classics(Turner Archive-now in Warner Archives), UCLA(Milestone), Library of Congress, MOMA, George Eastman, KINO Video, Boise State College(Nell Shipman films) they all label the film in some manner or other if they are the ones to restore them. The issue of copyright is too complex for me to go into now but having those institutions label over a film is a small price for having the films available for viewing in ANY manner. Furthermore those institutions are more than likely best suited to care for the films and to preserve for future generations to enjoy. Labeling/logo etc has always annoyed me take for instance Kino’s issue of John Barrymore’s 1922 Sherlock Holmes, it has one of the biggest logos i’ve ever seen cover nearly 1/8 of the screen. But a price to pay to have the film available. Well just my 2cents, forgive me for rambling on. Once again great find, “When Lincoln Paid”, I guess the line “search your attic” still rings true for some films, that’s if the nitrate in a hot attic doesn’t ignite and reduce that attic to ashes.


  17. After considering the concerns around issues of copyright raised in this discussion, the copyright statements have been removed from the film clips. We hope everyone continues to share and enjoy the clips (and those who can will join us next week for the screening).

  18. This is just wonderful. Almost the150th anniversary of the Civil War and a find like this is amazing. Thanks to all who helped restore it.
    John Riggs

  19. There are lots of issues regarding copyright around this particular film, but for those concerned about copyright issues, may I suggest that an appropriately sized copyright for Keene State be applied, and they also mark the clips they wish to share with a “Creative Commons” license:


    for example: Free to copy for non-commercial use and by attribution, derivatives allowed.

    This license could be done as a header or trailer to the original film, and act as an example for other restored films.

  20. Issues of copyright are complex. The college certainly has a right to a copyright on the restored film even if the original material is out of copyright.

    I suggest, however, that Keene State might consider licensing parts or all of the film under some type of Creative Commons:


    license, perhaps BY-NC (“By Attribution, non-commercial”), which would also allow derivatives of the film as long as attribution was given for the original work.

  21. any possibility of showing somewhere in the Concord area? I can’t get down to Keene & would love to see the film!!!

  22. To All —

    Just proves hidden treasures die tough.

    Working on way to resurrect actual humans – labeled as Immortals in Search of Poetic Fame.

    Thousand years from today, some of us will be unearthed, reconstructed and held, also, in awe.

    Death be damned.

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