He's typically depicted in paintings and sculptures as sullen and melancholy. His cheeks are sunken, and he has a long neck. His huge, veined hands are crossed over an ill-fitting, wrinkled suit.

But a different side of Abraham Lincoln has emerged in recently discovered accounts by those who knew him well and witnessed historic moments in his life and presidency.

In notes compiled early last century by artist and interviewer James E. Kelly, and uncovered by New Jersey historian William B. Styple, Lincoln is animated and athletic, passionate and engaging. He weeps and prays as he walks the streets of Washington, assessing the Civil War's cost. He smiles, laughs, and erupts in anger.

After collecting stories for at least 16 years, Kelly planned to write a book about the Lincoln few knew. He also hoped to produce a sculpture of the president, but he died in 1933 without finishing either.

Styple discovered Kelly's unpublished notes and correspondence - from civic leaders, politicians, artists, and soldiers - in the New York Historical Society about 70 years later and has turned them into a book.

"DO NOT represent him as if he were half asleep, or in mourning," wrote a Lincoln secretary, William Stoddard, in a 1919 letter to Kelly. "Make him living! For he was one of the most 'all alive' of men. . . .

"Remember that he was exceptionally vigorous physically, and notably outspoken in all his utterances - NEVER WEAK. I have seen his face light up as if God had kindled a bonfire behind it."

Styple devoured 27 boxes of Kelly's documents and learned of the artist's unusual friendship with a physician whose descendant - a South Jersey resident - inherited some of the artist's sculptures and sketches.

"When I found Kelly's notes, I knew how important they were," said Styple, 49, author of several Civil War books and a resident of Chatham, Morris County. "After 150 years, to find 50 new personal accounts [of Lincoln] is a rarity."

Eight of Kelly's bronze statuettes, four figurines, and a dozen plaster bas-reliefs were passed through the family of a Kelly friend to Henry Ryder, a professor of economics at Gloucester County College.

"Kelly's artwork has been pretty much forgotten," Ryder said. "His accounts and conversations were never known until Bill uncovered them."

Many critically acclaimed artistic works by Kelly, including equestrian pieces, are in parks, public places, and battlefields at Freehold, N.J.; Gettysburg, Pa.; Frederick, Md.; Washington; New York; and other East Coast cities.

To complete them, Kelly did extensive homework in the same way he had begun preparations for his Lincoln project.

He sketched, painted, and sculpted aging generals while chatting about historic events in which they and others shaped the Civil War.

He was enthralled by their eyewitness descriptions of the opening shots at Fort Sumter, the killing fields of Gettysburg, the Appomattox surrender, and the assassination of Lincoln.

His interviewing ability intrigued Styple, who studied Kelly's papers, including those about his conversations with Gens. Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and Alexander S. Webb. The public can see the documents at the historical society.

"While they sat, Kelly talked to them, and they told him things they wouldn't write in their memoirs," Styple said recently, in this 200th anniversary year of Lincoln's birth. "It was like talking to a barber or bartender."

Kelly got the idea for a book and bronze sculpture of Lincoln in 1917 after sharing some of his notes about the 16th president with a librarian.

"If you write what you have told me - what the generals and other friends of Lincoln have told you, it would make a Life of Lincoln," the librarian said, according to Kelly's notes.

The artist took her advice. "From that very moment, I became desirous of gathering material - to justify me in making Abraham Lincoln an active, vigorous leader so much as inspired the poem of Walt Whitman, 'O Captain! My Captain!' " wrote the artist.

Kelly was influenced by Henry T. Blake, a civic leader in New Haven, Conn., and a businessman who met the 6-foot-4 Lincoln in 1860 and later was appalled by statues in his honor.

"He is generally represented with his head bowed down meditating, or depicted grasping his coat, as if he were sick to his stomach, while he was full of animation. . . .

"His soul was bigger than himself - a common figure with the soul of a prophet," Blake told Kelly around 1917. "When he spoke he seemed to rise, and became transfigured with fire and vigor."

Many who met Lincoln were impressed by his appearance. "There was always about his mouth a suppressed play of humor," said artist George Henry Story, who painted Lincoln's portrait. "I never saw him in shabby clothes. He was one of the best dressed men in Washington. . . .

"He was called uncouth and coarse, and all sorts of stories were told of him which were not true. He was not at all coarse or rough in build. . . . It is wrong to represent him drooping; he was alert."

There was a "solemnity, dignity and a general air that bespoke weight of character that was convincing at our first meeting," Story said. "Honesty was written in every line of that face."

The more interviews he did, Kelly wrote, the more he became convinced that Lincoln "had seldom been depicted correctly in art."

He continued his research while receiving critical acclaim for his evocative painting and his sculpture of Sheridan's ride to rally troops at the Battle of Cedar Creek in 1864. Kelly was commissioned to portray, in bronze, 40 Union generals.

But he often found himself in financial difficulties that were eased by George Ryder, a New York physician and friend who admired Kelly's work, Styple said.

Kelly "was not a good businessman," Henry Ryder said. "If it wasn't for my great-uncle, a lot of the artist's work certainly would not have been saved. . . . Much of it was in a basement, and my uncle had it cast in bronze so it could be saved."

Though never completing a Lincoln book or sculpture, Kelly did leave a legacy, said Styple, who edited the artist's notes in a book released this month called Tell Me of Lincoln: Memories of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War and Life in Old New York by James E. Kelly.

"He lets us see Lincoln as a human being, as a man, not the godlike figure at the Lincoln Memorial," Styple said.

Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.