CHICAGO – Artists, sculptors and photographers knew Abraham Lincoln’s face had a good side. Now it’s confirmed by science.
Laser scans of two life masks, made from plaster casts of Lincoln’s face, reveal the 16th president’s unusual degree of facial asymmetry, according to a new study.
The left side of Lincoln’s face was much smaller than the right, an aberration called cranial facial microsomia. The defect joins a long list of ailments – including smallpox, heart illness and depression – that modern doctors have diagnosed in Lincoln.
Lincoln’s contemporaries noted his left eye at times drifted upward independently of his right eye, a condition now termed strabismus. Lincoln’s smaller left eye socket may have displaced a muscle controlling vertical movement, said Dr. Ronald Fishman, who led the study published in the August issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology.
Severe strabismus leads to double vision and can be treated today by surgery.
“Lincoln noticed double vision only occasionally and it did not bother him a great deal,” said Fishman, a retired ophthalmologist and history buff.
Most people’s faces are asymmetrical, Fishman said, but Lincoln’s case was extreme, with the bony ridge over his left eye rounder and thinner than the right side, and set backward.
Lincoln’s appearance was mocked by political enemies, historians say. The author Nathaniel Hawthorne, a Lincoln fan, wrote of the president’s “homely sagacity” and his “sallow, queer, sagacious visage,” said Daniel Weinberg, owner of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago.
Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum described the left side of Lincoln’s face as primitive, immature and unfinished.
When Lincoln was a boy, he was kicked in the head by a horse. Laser scans can’t settle whether the kick or a developmental defect – or neither – contributed to his lopsided face, Fishman said.