Abraham Lincoln has been the subject of dozens if not hundreds of books and articles. Some of them mention the most famous of his prophetic dreams or visions, the one in which he sees his own catafalque (a temporary structure placed over the coffin of people of note) and is told that the President has died.
But that was far from the only such dream, vision, or encounter with the Other Side.
He and Mrs. Lincoln, the former Mary Todd of Kentucky, were rather avid attendees of seances and discussion groups with like-minded souls.
Abe Lincoln's mind was on the spirit world almost as much as it was occupied by the gigantic job of managing the Civil War effort. He was probably more disposed to entertain the possibility of life after death after the untimely death of his son, Willie. He wrote that “ever since Willie's death, I myself involuntarily talking to him as if he were near me – and I feel that he is.” Willie was eleven when he died in February, 1862, of typhoid fever. (1)
We may as well deal with the best-known incident first, the one referred to above in which Lincoln receives a premonition of his own death. Some months after his second inauguration, Lincoln and a few friends were discussing dreams mentioned in the Bible. He said that a couple nights earlier he had a dream in which a deathly stillness pervaded the White House. He “heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible.
“I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me. But where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this?
“I kept on until I arrived in the East Room, which I entered. Before me was a catafalque in which was a form wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were soldiers who were acting as guards; there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the catafalque; others weeping pitifully. 'Who is dead in the White House?' I asked one of the soldiers. 'The President,' he replied. 'He was killed by an assassin.' Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me up from my dream.”
Furthermore, he told William H. Crook(2) on Good Friday that he had dreamed three nights in a row that he would be assassinated. Crook tried to dissuade Lincoln from going to the theatre that night, but he felt duty-bound to fulfill his promise to Mrs. Lincoln to take her to the play.
As early as the year 1840, Lincoln was attending meetings of spiritualists. About that time, he attended one such meeting in Illinois in which Peter Akers predicted that a time would come when the slave trade would no longer be conducted. Akers (3) is said to have predicted that the man who would lead the country through the turmoil of banishing slavery may be in the crowd that day. As indeed, he was, in the person of a young law clerk named Abraham Lincoln.
There is some difference of opinion on whether any seances were actually conducted in the White House during Lincoln's terms of office. Some say that Mr. Lincoln did not attend, but that goofy Mrs. Lincoln did. Adding in an undertone, well, she went crazy later, anyway. The British seemed to consider it an open secret. If you happen to find an old copy of the British sheet music for “The Dark Séance Polka,”(4) you will find Lincoln on the cover, sitting in a darkened room holding a candle; underneath is the caption, “ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND THE SPIRITUALISTS.”
At any rate, the Lincolns both consulted mediums after Willie's death. It appears that one woman became rather a favorite with them, a lady named Nettie Colburn Maynard (5). Historian Jay Monaghan (6) confirms a séance was held in the White House on Feb. 5, 1863 by Mrs. Maynard. She reportedly was playing the piano when it began to levitate. Lincoln and Colonel Simon Kase attempted to sit on the piano to hold it down, but it shook so violently that they gave it up.
It also appears that Mr. Lincoln had some precognitive ability of his own. He reportedly awakened staffers at a telegraph office, demanding that they get a line through. He had had a vision, and he wanted to send a warning to the Union army regarding Confederate forces about to break through Union lines. A record to this effect was kept in the old War Department about this incident. This warning was received in time to avert a military embarrassment.
Virtually from the moment he was nominated to be president in 1860, Lincoln had visions of what was in store. One of Lincoln's first biographers, Noah Brooks (7), recounts this tale. Lincoln had gone home to rest after a long day of political news. “Opposite where I lay was a bureau with a swinging mirror, and looking in the glass, I saw myself reflected nearly at full length, but my face had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. . . I got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished.”
Lincoln saw it again, though, upon lying down again. He also noticed that one face was paler than the other. He got up once more, but the image melted away again.
He told Mrs. Lincoln about it later in the day, and she interpreted it for him. She felt that it portended he would be elected twice, but would not finish the second term.
After President Lincoln's death, not only mediums but ordinary persons reported unusual incidents. When Lincoln's body was taken by train to his home town in Illinois, townsfolk reported sighting Lincoln's ghost
wandering between the vault and the crypt each night until he was interred. And all kinds of reports of a ghost train surfaced among railroad workers along the route taken by his body to Illinois. Switchmen, track walkers, brakemen, other rail workers, and even hoboes along the New York Central Railroad (which later became the Penn-Central), reported seeing a ghost train on the rails about midnight every April 27-29 (8) – leaving as the only proof that something eerie had happened the fact that all the watches and clocks were suddenly five to eight minutes slow.
And the ghost of Lincoln himself has been seen or felt in many reports in years afterward. Among those who spoke of seeing his ghost include Eleanor Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, and others. He also appears at Fort Monroe in Virginia, usually standing by the fireplace in the aptly name Lincoln Room – named because he stayed there when he met with his generals.
1- William Wallace Lincoln, 1999-2012, MrLincolnsWhiteHouse.org, http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/inside.asp?ID=18&subjectID=2
2- Crook, William Henry and Gerry, Margarita Spalding, Through five administrations : reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, body-guard to President Lincoln, 1910, http://www.archive.org/details/throughfiveadmin06croo
3- Bray, Robert, Abraham Lincoln and the Two Peters, Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 22 Issue 2, Summer 2001, p. 40, Univ. of Michigan Library, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jala?page=home
4- Taylor, Troy, Séances In The White House?, 2003-2008, PrairieGhosts.com, http://www.prairieghosts.com/a_lincoln.html
5- Maynard, Nettie Colburn, Was Abraham Lincoln A Spiritualist?, 1917, p. 33, snu.org.uk, http://www.snu.org.uk/Images/pdfs/Abraham%20Lincoln.pdf
6- Mary's Charlatans, 1999-2012, MrLincoln'sWhiteHouse.org, http://www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/inside.asp?ID=13&subjectID=2
7- Rogers, Lisa Waller, Bad Omen #1: Lincoln's Doppelganger, March 3, 2009, Wordpress.com, https://lisawallerrogers.wordpress.com/2009/03/03/abraham-lincoln-the-omen/
8- Schlosser, S.E., Lincoln Death Train: A New York Ghost Story, 1997-2010, AmericanFolklore.net, http://americanfolklore.net/folklore/2010/07/the_lincoln_death_train.html