As It Happens

Massachusetts court's mystery portrait ID'd as Herman Melville's father-in-law

The mystery that was literally hanging over the Massachusetts's Supreme Judicial Court in Boston has been solved.

Boston courthouse painting depicts Lemuel Shaw, who served as chief justice from 1830 until 1860

For years, officials at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court tried to identify the mystery jurist in this portrait. Now he finally has a name: Lemuel Shaw. (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court via AP)

The mystery that was literally hanging over the Massachusetts's Supreme Judicial Court in Boston has been solved.

Nearly two months after court officials appealed to the public for help identifying the man whose portrait hangs outside the chief justice's chambers, he has been identified as Lemuel Shaw, who served as chief justice from 1830 until 1860.

Cliff Allen, director of education and public programs at the courthouse, told As It Happens host Carol Off in February that he'd received a multitude of tips from the public about the painting, including from history buffs and individuals who love a good mystery.

But it was Assistant Chief Court Officer Keith Downer's nifty detective work that finally cracked the case.

Initials revealed under light 

Among other things, Downer performed bright yellow and white light tests that revealed the loop script initials "LS" on the wood panel attached to the canvas, court officials say.

"The remarkable level of interest among members of the public and over 40 submissions received is an example of civic engagement at its best," Chief Justice Ralph Gants said in a statement to the Associated Press.

Shaw, who was the father-in-law of Moby Dick author Herman Melville, also served on the Massachusetts state Senate and House of Representatives and as a member of the constitutional Convention of 1820.

He died less than a year after he retired from the court in August 1860.

With files from Associated Press


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