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A Ghost in the White House?

White House Historical Association Photograph

THE ONLY ROOM IN THE EXECUTIVE MANSION DEDICATED TO A SINGLE PRESIDENT
"It was the one room in the White House with a link to the past. It gave me great comfort. I love the Lincoln Room the most, even though it isn't really Lincoln's bedroom. But it has his things in it. When you see that great bed, it looks like a cathedral. To touch something I knew he had touched was a real link with him. The kind of peace I felt in that room was what you feel when going into a church. I used to feel his strength. I'd sort of be talking with him."**
Young Willie Lincoln (age 11) died in the White House in the bed now in the Lincoln Bedroom at about 5:00 P.M. on February 20, 1862. Both Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower claimed they felt the powerful presence of Abraham Lincoln in this room. Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Sometimes when I worked at my desk late at night I'd get a feeling that someone was standing behind me. I'd have to turn around and look." Rumors were that Winston Churchill had a Lincoln sighting in the room. Amy Carter, during sleepovers with her friends, waited up at night for the ghost of Mr. Lincoln to appear. Once the girls tried to get in touch with him with a Ouija board to no avail. Ronald Reagan's dog would bark outside the room but never enter. Maureen Reagan said she saw mysterious apparitions there. Actor Richard Dreyfess reported having scary dreams about a portrait of Mr. Lincoln that hangs in the room. "A high percentage of people who work here won't go in the Lincoln Bedroom," said President Bill Clinton's White House social secretary, Capricia Marshall. White House maids and butlers have sworn they had seen Lincoln’s ghost.

The Lincoln Bedroom was in the news during Bill Clinton's term because of its use as a bedroom for White House guests. But it wasn't always used as a bedroom. When Abraham Lincoln was president, it was used as his personal office and Cabinet room. (It was used in this manner by all presidents between 1830 and 1902.) During the Lincoln presidency, the walls were covered with Civil War maps. It had dark green wallpaper, and the carpeting was also dark green. Newspapers were stacked on the desk and tables along with large amounts of mail and requests from office seekers. Two large wicker wastebaskets were filled with debris. Mr. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in this room on January 1, 1863.

In 1902 the room became a bedroom when all the second floor offices were moved to the West Wing during the Roosevelt renovation. It was named the Lincoln Bedroom in 1945 when President and Mrs. Truman moved in the bed and other furniture. Mary Todd Lincoln purchased the large bed, measuring eight feet long by six feet wide, in 1861 as part of her refurbishing of the White House. (The photograph of the bed is from the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection.) It was a part of a set of furniture she purchased for the Prince of Wales Room (besides the bed which had purple-and-gold satin curtains, the set included matching draperies, a marble-topped table, and six chairs). Several presidents used the bed including Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Never used by Abraham Lincoln himself, it is made of carved rosewood. The original mattress was made of horsehair. Barbara Bush replaced the mattress, but guests still report it's lumpy.

Many of the Victorian pieces in the bedroom were placed there by the Trumans when the Brussels carpet and the Lincoln bed were installed in 1945. The chandelier, which was acquired in 1972, resembles the one hanging there when Lincoln was president. The sofa and matching chairs, a gift to the White House in 1954, are believed to have been there during Lincoln's presidency. One of the chairs in the room, upholstered in antique yellow-and-green Morris velvet, was sold after Lincoln's assassination but was returned to the White House as a gift in 1961. The rocking chair near the window is similar to the one Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth.

Along the west wall are four chairs used by Lincoln's Cabinet members. They are believed to have been purchased for the White House when James Polk was president. To the left of the fireplace is a desk that Lincoln used at the Soldiers' Home (where he often stayed to escape the heat of Washington's summers).


President Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldiers' Home

On this desk is a copy of the Gettysburg Address that is signed, dated, and titled by Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln originally gave this copy to Colonel Alexander Bliss.

To the left of the bed is a portrait of Andrew Jackson that was a favorite of Lincoln's. The portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln, hanging to the right of the bed, was given to the White House by Mrs. Robert Todd Lincoln. It was painted from photographs by Katherine Helm, daughter of Mary Todd's half-sister, Emily Todd Helm. To the right of the mantel is an engraving of Francis B. Carpenter's 1864 painting titled First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation before Lincoln's Cabinet.

Hanging above the desk is an 1865 lithograph titled Abraham Lincoln's Last Reception. It depicts Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln greeting guests, including Cabinet members, in the East Room. On the north wall hangs a portrait of Lincoln by Stephen Arnold Douglas Volk based on a bust his father (Leonard Volk) had done from real life. Other objects associated with Lincoln, including books he read, have also been placed about the room.

** Mrs. John F. Kennedy
Thank you to Sarah Norton Ramberg for creating the idea for this page. Sources used: The White House: An Historic Guide by the White House Historical Association in cooperation with The National Geographic Society; How the White House Works by George Sullivan; Lincoln in American Memory by Merrill D. Peterson; The White House: Cornerstone of a Nation by Judith St. George; The White House by Patricia Ryon Quiri; and the March 17th, 1997, issue of People Weekly.

Although the bed was not actually used by President Lincoln, the late author Dr. Merrill D. Peterson wrote on p. 324 of Lincoln in American Memory: "When President Truman told his aged mother, an unreconstructed Confederate, that she would sleep in Lincoln’s bed when visiting him in the capital, she told him in no uncertain terms that she would sleep on the floor instead." The story may be apocryphal.

The Lincoln Bedroom has undergone a restoration since the picture at the top of the page was taken. For information and photos please CLICK HERE.

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