Judge dismisses defamation suit over alleged deathbed picture of Abraham Lincoln

By John O'Brien | Dec 27, 2013

MARTINSBURG – A federal judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who claims to have a picture of Abraham Lincoln on his deathbed.

On Dec. 4, U.S. District Judge Gina Groh, of the Northern District of West Virginia, granted a motion to dismiss Ernestine Glessner’s lawsuit, which was filed in June against the director of the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Md., and the museum itself.

Groh ruled the lawsuit was brought in the wrong venue. At issue in the lawsuit was a posting by director Laurie Verge on the museum’s website instructing others to ignore Glessner’s claims that the picture is of Lincoln.

“In viewing all of the events underlying the Plaintiff’s claims, it cannot be said that a substantial part of those events occurred in this district,” Groh wrote.

“The Plaintiff has alleged that Ms. Verge made this posting while working at the museum in Maryland. The only connection asserted by the Plaintiff to exist between her claims and this district is that individuals in West Virginia could view the posting because it is on the Internet.

“The mere fact, however, that someone in West Virginia could view Ms. Verge’s posting evidences only passive electronic activity that was not directed at West Virginia residents anyway.”

Glessner has been working for years to verify that it is Lincoln in the picture, which she says she found at a Harpers Ferry flea market.

Charles Town attorney Stephen Skinner, also a member of the House of Delegates, submitted a motion to dismiss on behalf of the defendants on Aug. 20. It says Glessner failed to provide notice of her claim.

Glessner is representing herself. Her gripe with Verge began after Glessner claimed new information proved the man in the picture is Lincoln, which she says she uncovered on July 12. Glessner sent an email to individuals in the news, historical and scientific communities to inform them, she says.

She says Verge wrote on the museum’s official website: “I have dealt with Ernestine in the past. This is no more a photo of Abe Lincoln than it is of me. Ignore her.”

The house of Mary Surratt is located in Clinton. Surratt was hanged in 1865 as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Lincoln.

The lawsuit sought $100,000 in damages.

“Plaintiff was subjected to embarrassment, extreme loss of credibility and ridicule as a result of her statement, and based on the fact that Plaintiff believes there is no credible proof, based on fact, not (hearsay) to back this statement, Plaintiff requests this court to compel Defendant to show documented and forensic evidence to prove her statement that this photo is not authentic that are based on facts and not hearsay and opinion,” the complaint says.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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