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MARY TODD LINCOLN AND CLAIRVOYANCE

During the 1850's there was a spiritualist movement in the United States, and cities like New York and Boston had hundreds of mediums who allegedly were putting the living in touch with the dead. Mary Lincoln probably became interested in the subject during the 1850's in Springfield when prophets appeared in the Midwest. News from Europe that Empress Eugenie and Queen Victoria practiced spiritualism probably helped confirm Mary's interest.

The photograph of Mary is from the National Life Foundation.

After Willie's death in the White House in 1862, Mary often visited the home of the Lauries who were well-known Georgetown mediums. Here a clairvoyant would darken the parlor and arrange the patrons in a circle with their hands on the table. The goal was to attain communication with invisible beings; in Mary's case, it was Eddie and Willie, her two dead sons.

There were possibly as many as eight seances held in the White House itself. Abraham accepted gifts and read books and letters from mediums, but he never became a believer. According to Lincoln Day By Day edited by Earl Schenck Miers, the president “allegedly attended a spiritualist seance in the White House” on April 23, 1863. Mary was the real spiritualist in the family. In October, 1863, Mary said to her half sister (Emilie Todd Helm):

"Willie lives. He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of the bed with the same sweet adorable smile he always has had. He does not always come alone. Little Eddie is sometimes with him, and twice he has come with our brother, Alex."**
After her husband's assassination, Mary was visited in the White House by several spiritualists. They attempted to console the grieving widow. Years later, while living in Chicago, Mary went to seances under an assumed name. She liked to "test" the mediums' skills. Once, on a trip to Boston, she attended a seance using the name "Mrs. Tundall" to avoid recognition. Abraham "appeared" before her during the seance. She then visited William Mumler's studio. Mumler was a spirit photographer. He produced a photograph of Mary with Abraham superimposed in the background with his hands on her shoulders. (The print is from the Lloyd Ostendorf collection.) This photograph gave Mary great comfort that Abraham was hovering over her.

Subsequent to her White House years the former first lady really appreciated her spiritualistic friends. She felt they never abandoned her as so many other people had done after the assassination.

For added information on Mary Todd's Lincoln's spiritualism, see Jean H. Baker's 1987 biography entitled Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography. Katherine Helm's Mary, Wife of Lincoln discusses Mary's vision of Willie, Eddie, and Alex. More information on Mary and spiritualism can be found in Catherine Clinton's 2009 biography entitled Mrs. Lincoln: A Life.

The Lincoln Museum, formerly located in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, acquired additional evidence of Mary?s interest in spiritualism. That institution purchased a book entitled The Disowned written by Sir Edward Bulwer and published in 1862. The book belonged to Mary (it’s signed ‘Mary Lincoln, 1864’) and is a novel about spiritualism.

**Mary's half brother, Lieutenant Alexander H. Todd, 23, had been killed while fighting for the Confederates at Baton Rouge. According to the Official Records of the War, he was mortally wounded in a friendly fire incident before dawn on August 5, 1862, and died two weeks later.


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