PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT John Adams Courthouse One Pemberton Square Boston, Massachusetts 02108
Jennifer Donahue / Erika Gully-Santiago
(617) 557-1114 Jennifer.Donahue@jud.state.ma.us
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 29, 2018
Mystery of the Unknown Justice Solved
Seven weeks after Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants sought the help of the public to identify the unnamed justice in a portrait hanging outside of his chambers, the court is pleased to announce that it has received credible information that the unidentified justice is the Honorable Lemuel Shaw (b. 1781 - d. 1861), who was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court as Chief Justice on August 31, 1830, retiring on August 21, 1860.
"Thanks to the forensic work of Trial Court Assistant Chief Court Officer Keith Downer and our Director of Education and Public Programs Cliff Allen, we have been able to identify the subject of the portrait as the Honorable Lemuel Shaw in his younger years," said Chief Justice Ralph Gants. "The remarkable level of interest among members of the public and over 40 submissions received is an example of civic engagement at its best."
The Supreme Judicial Court received 42 total informed guesses. The guesses suggested 24 individuals, not all of whom were justices of the court. The top guesses were: Lemuel Shaw (10); Thomas Dawes (4); Samuel Sumner Wilde (3); Ethan Allen Greenwood (2); Simeon Strong (2); Levi Lincoln (2); and Marcus Morton, Sr. (2).
The break in the case came when Assistant Chief Court Officer Downer, a 25-year veteran of the Massachusetts Trial Court, provided his expertise in forensic science to assist in the identification. In addition to the forensic examination, he offered his 47-year knowledge of the antiques and fine art business.
Assistant Chief Court Officer Downer first made a visual inspection of the painting and did limited research, without seeing any of the informed guesses that were made. He found that the very basic and obvious features narrowed the painting to a small field of study. Following the visual examination, he conducted a UV light absorption or reflection test using a UV-A (blue or black light), which allowed him to see things the naked eye cannot. Next, bright yellow and bright white light tests allowed those present to see the loop script initials "L S" become visible on the top rail of the stretcher. The equipment used will be shown at the event.
While it may be impossible to conclude with 100% certainty the true identity of the justice, the court believes that the most persuasive arguments, confirmed by the forensic report that the court has received, point to a younger Lemuel Shaw whose portrait was painted before or around the time he was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court in 1830.
The ten participants who chose Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw as the unidentified justice will be invited to join Chief Justice Gants in the attachment of the name plate to the frame, and to take a tour of the John Adams Courthouse led by Supreme Judicial Court Director of Education and Public Programs Cliff Allen on Tuesday, April 10.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
John Adams Courthouse
Seven Justice Courtroom