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1/9/18

Have you ever heard sage, new-age people say, "There's no such thing as coincidence"? I think I may have just found one. This is important, because one of the strongest go-to explanations for any paranormal phenomenon is "chance," or coincidence; that, and "magical thinking," in which a chance occurrence is arbitrarily given that meaning which would be most favorable to one's theory.

Setting aside the larger philosophical question, in the realm of practicality, an event may be an actual coincidence; or it may appear to be a coincidence because the causal factors are unknown. Magical thinking consists of assigning meaning to an actual coincidence; whereas correctly identifying a real paranormal event, is a matter of ferreting out the hidden causes of a seeming coincidence. The two may look very similar. It is convenient for the skeptic to mix them up, and accuse the paranormal investigator of indulging in magical thinking (#1) when he has actually revealed hidden causes (#2).

I had, I believe, briefly mentioned a humorous sketch which appears in the April 29, 1829 edition of the "New-England Galaxy." The plot concerns a dandy named Robert Tiptoe, who undergoes a conversion, withdraws from society, and re-emerges as an acclaimed preacher. In the course of the story, there is a wedding at Trinity Church, in New York City, and the story itself is signed from New York, with the date of March 23, 1829. Knowing Mathew Franklin Whittier's modus operandi, I thought that since, in my opinion, he was almost certainly the author, he probably was briefly in New York to attend someone's wedding, perhaps at Trinity Church.

The staff at Trinity was very obliging, and quickly sent me a scan of the registry for three months preceding that date. Unfortunately, they didn't have the guest registry; but they had a list of the parties and their minister. I didn't recognize any of the names--and without springing for a month on Ancestry.com, I wasn't able to find anything on any of those people that might tie them to Mathew. For the record, Charles P. French, who married ElizaAnn Minor on February 23rd, seems familiar, but it could simply be my imagination. It would, however (as I now think about it), be typical of Mathew to leave a "signature" by signing with the exact same date as the wedding he attended. On that date, James H. Van Winkle married Marianne Blakeley. So if someone ever wanted to research this more deeply, I would start with them.

The point of all this is that listed for the 28th of January, is one Stephen Constantine Richard. My name is Stephen Constantine Sakellarios.

The odds of this happening are, as they say, astronomical. "Richard" is kind of a strange last name--I am familiar with the plural, "Richards." But just how many "Stephen Constantine's" are there? Perhaps not so uncommon among Greeks--but is "Richard" a Greek last name?

For those of you who may think I indulge freely in magical thinking, I don't assign any meaning to this, at all. It's just weird. It is the first time I have ever seen anyone with that combination of first and middle names.

Now, here is something that may or may not be coincidence. I will have to create a comparison image, I suppose...

Actually I think I will just create an HTML coding placeholder here, and keep writing; but you will see the image, above.

The photograph on the right is a copy of a daguerreotype--given the style of vignetting, I would guess it's an early one. The daguerreotype process became available to the general public in America around 1841. Daguerreotypes from that earliest period are rare.* You start to see more of them when you get into the mid-1840's, and then into the 1850's, when they were very popular. All daguerrotypes were a mirror image, unless they were a copy made by the same process; a CDV like this one, probably made in the 1860's, would have retained the reversal. So for that reason, I have reversed it back again, restoring the natural view, myself.

This photograph, as I am told by the Ebay seller, came from a photo album which was handed down in the family of famous abolitionist Gerrit Smith's son-in-law, Charles Dudley Miller. Miller was born in 1818. That would make him six years Mathew's junior, so they were roughly contemporaries, and his image does seem familiar to me. I am told that all the photographs in the album were identified, and this one was identified as a young Gerrit Smith. But Smith was born in 1797, which would make him 44 years old in 1841. If the daguerreotype were taken, say, in 1843, he would be 46 years old--and this is obviously not the image of a 46 year-old-man. We have images of Smith not too much older than that, and there's no way it's the same person.

So the photograph was misidentified by somebody, at some point--probably, by a descendant who labeled all these images by family lore and guesswork. But just who is the young man in the daguerreotype?

I felt an immediate sense of recognition, even from a small thumbnail, and I think it was a young Mathew Franklin Whittier. Remember that painted portraits were not always photo-accurate. But these two are pretty close on a number of specific indicators. The chief differences are that the eyes and hair seem lighter (Mathew seems to have indicated, in one of his stories, that he had "black eyes"); but given the dark color of the beard and eyebrows, the young man probably isn't blond. It may be that the daguerreotypist used extremely strong lighting, to counterbalance the slow speed of his film (thus somewhat increasing the shutter speed, and hence decreasing the length of time that the subject had to remain still). Secondly, the mouth is smaller in the painted portrait--but that always struck me as odd. It makes his mouth look "pursed," and doesn't look quite natural.

Thirdly, the nose in the photograph looks straighter than that in the painted portrait; but this could be due to a number of factors. First of all, if I read Mathew's autobiographical elements in his stories correctly, his nose may have been broken at some point (his characters' exceptionally long noses were "tweaked"). Secondly, once again, is the bright lighting which may have been used for the photograph, which would wash out the bridge of the nose, as compared with the more pronounced side-lighting represented in the painting. Thirdly, the angle of view is different. If I am not mistaken, Mathew in the painted portrait is looking somewhat down on the viewer, which probably means that the painter was seated, while Mathew was standing; whereas the photograph appears to have been taken at eye level. This would account for any subtle differences in the shape of the nostrils, etc. (though there isn't much).

Finally, Mathew in the painting sports muttonchops; while the man in the photograph may wear a Quaker beard (sans mustache); or, he, also, may have muttonchops. Perhaps it will be clearer when I get my hands on the original, in a few days. But I notice, on his right side ("stage right"), there is a vertical edge of some clothing, where the beard should be. That suggests, to me, that it is not a full beard; and that what can be interepreted as such, is actually an article of clothing--a collar of some sort. If that is the case, then the two men are wearing exactly the same muttonchops.

Now for similarities. First of all, Mathew had a long, aquiline nose with a bulbous tip. He mentions these features in various humorous sketches. Both men have these nasal features.

Secondly, you will see that his hairline is receding on the left side of his forehead, to roughly the same degree, in both images. That might put him in his early 30's, so that his facial features are young, but his hairline is just starting to recede (as it has done more markedly, in his older portrait). Meanwhile, the hair itself looks to be of an identical type, curly or frizzy (aside from the fact that it looks lighter in the photograph).

Thirdly, both men strike me as highly intelligent--the right eye, the dominant eye, bores into the viewer's soul, as it were. But the expression, the mood, is different. The left eye in the painted portait is fierce--one may read it as righteous indignation, or even hatred. But in the photograph, it is veiled, or far away somehow. The painted portrait gives an impression of extreme intelligence, self-confidence, and righteous indignation; while the photograph has a more benign feeling to it. But all this would be consistent with the same man captured in different moods--and it might also reflect his relationship with the painter, vs. that with the photographer.

Now to an analysis of statistical chance. I did take two semesters of statistics, as required for my major, in college. But I remember nothing from it. With that caveat, this would be my assessment. If one was drawing from a large pool--say, all of 19th-century New England--we might justifiably label this a "coincidence." But we are not. We are drawing from a very small pool, indeed. We are, first of all, constrained within the early years of photography, say, the 1840's, and perhaps the early 1840's. But this photograph is taken from the family album of the son-in-law of a famous abolitionist. And this is where it gets statistically interesting.

We would need to have a man who was close enough to the Millers, that his photograph was placed into their family album. That means either a relative, or a close friend. This, alone, drastically reduces our "pool." But now, we need a man who was in his early 30's within the target range of the early 1840's. That means someone roughly contemporary with Charles Dudley Miller, born from around 1810 to 1820. Miller was, as said, born in 1818, while Mathew was born in 1812.

We already know that John Greenleaf Whittier would have been friends with Gerrit Smith. Smith was eight years older than John Greenleaf. Mathew (also an ardent abolitionist, though working chiefly behind the scenes), was six years older than Smith's son-in-law, Charles. So the likelihood, assuming Charles was also anti-slavery, is that while John Greenleaf was personal friends with Smith, Mathew was personal friends with Charles--and hence was very likely to end up in his family album. This is even more likely with an 1860's copy of an 1840's daguerreotype.

Finally, this person would have to be practically Mathew Franklin Whittier's doppelganger. That narrows the field to absurdly small proportions. What are the chances of that happening, and it not actually being Mathew, himself?

In my own extended family, there is only one male even close to my age, and he looks nothing like me, at all. I would guess this goes for his friends, as well.

And yet, what are the chances that someone named "Stephen Constantine" would show up in the Trinity Church registry?

There is yet another coincidence--your having stumbled onto this presentation. Or is it?

Best regards,

Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.

*On the other hand, there are numerous indications that Mathew was fascinated with new technology, and would undoubtedly have been one of the first to try it out when it became available.

 

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