Four long-lost Walt Whitman notebooks have been rediscovered after disappearing during World War II, Sotheby's auction house said Friday.
Sotheby's said it had rediscovered the notebooks kept by the 19th-Century American poet, which contain philosophical writings, his impressions as a nurse watching young soldiers die during the Civil War and some of the earliest versions of his most famous poem, "Song of Myself."
Also recovered was a small paper butterfly that Whitman used as a prop in one of the most famous photographs of an American author ever taken, the frontispiece accompanying an 1881 edition of his collection "Leaves of Grass." He had placed the butterfly so that it appeared to have landed on his ring finger.
The notebooks and the butterfly disappeared from the Whitman collection at the Library of Congress in 1942 while the works were being packed off in sealed crates to a safe haven in case of a German attack on Washington.
When the crates were reopened in 1946, 14 notebooks and the butterfly were gone and presumed lost forever.
But Sotheby's said a man came to them last January with four of the notebooks and the butterfly and said he had discovered them among his late father's effects, and wondered what they were and if they were valuable.
Sotheby's would give no details of the man or how his father came across the notebooks, but said as soon as he learned they were from the Library of Congress, he demanded they be returned there.
Sotheby's said it will hand them back to the Library of Congress next week. The four notebooks dated from 1847 to about 1863.