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Famous Painting of Frederick Douglass Missing, Still a Mystery

526px-Frederick_Douglas_NYHS_c1866Believe it or not, we will spend a total of 3,680 hours, or almost 153 days searching for misplaced items over the course of a lifetime. However, some people spend their entire lifetimes searching for just one thing, and for leaders at Fisk University, a missing and famous portrait of Frederick Douglass is their pursuit.

The portrait was gifted to the university by one of its most famous graduates, W.E.B. DuBois, in 1959, and was received with great fanfare.

“It is certainly a magnificent portrait and I feel that we must unveil it with some kind of appropriate ceremony,” then President Wright wrote in a December 28, 1959, letter. “We are very grateful to you for this priceless gift.”

Now, however, the famous and treasured painting is nowhere to be found.

Officials at Fisk reported that they are filing an investigation into the portrait and its potential whereabouts.

“We welcome any information regarding this portrait as we continue our research that could be helpful in identifying the whereabouts of the Frederick Douglass painting,” Interim President Frank Sims said in a statement.

The news was a welcome development to historian Lisa Struckmeyer, who has been studying the portrait’s artist, Sarah James Eddy, and has found few answers.

Struckmeyer set about studying a portrait of Douglass that hung in his home, and suspected that it could be the one from Fisk Unversity, but no records show that particular piece being sent anywhere else.

Historic accounts report that Eddy made multiple copies of various paintings, including a famous rendition of Susan B. Anthony, another Rochester resident.

For now, Struckmeyer’s theory of doubles is a good one, and could provide some key evidence in discovering the painting’s whereabouts and history.

However, Douglass’s portrait isn’t the only one that’s gone missing lately.

Four paintings from a Dunkirk museum have gone missing, and while they are of little value to the world at large, they hold a significant amount of sentiment for the town.

Staff discovered the missing paintings while preparing for an upcoming exhibition Dunkirk-born artist George William Eggers, a painter and art museum director who lived from 1883 to 1958.

The paintings were part of a 500-piece collection donated by Eggers’s grandson and his wife. Museum officials are offering a $500 reward to anyone who provides information leading to the location of the paintings.

Mystery art thefts have occurred all throughout history, some even as famed and legendary as the Nazi gold train.

This train supposedly houses gold and jewels from a small town in Poland and was hidden deep underground in the wake of World War II. Researchers and historians have searched for decades, but nobody has discovered the gold train yet.

While the mysteries of the Eggers paintings and the Frederick Douglass portrait aren’t as legendary as the seemingly mythical Nazi gold train, they present their own kind of historical conundrum.

There are records that reveal DuBois’s communication with Fisk about the portrait’s delivery and reception, but that’s where the paper trail supposedly ends.

Struckmeyer has praised Fisk for its efforts in finding the painting, and is eager to see results.

“I want it to find it’s way back to Fisk. I want it to hang in Du Bois Hall where he wanted it to be,” she said. “I just want it found and brought back to life there.”