Holy moly! I just sat down to do a little research for this President’s Day edition of The Campfire Chronicle, and dog gone it if I haven’t already learned something new. I’ve always thought of President’s Day as a combined birthday party for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. It seemed like a good idea to me . . . let the two most famous U.S. Presidents share a cake and a piñata and . . . put all of the country’s mattresses on sale! I figured they wouldn’t mind sharing a party. I mean, their pictures were already sharing space on coloring pages in elementary schools all across the nation. But, by golly, it appears that this federal holiday was never, ever designated as a way of celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s birth. It is now, and has always been all about George Washington. My head is still reeling from this information . . . and I did verify it on Snopes.
So it is no surprise to me, then, that the ghost of Abraham Lincoln is said to roam the earth! Yes. Seriously. Sightings of Abraham Lincoln’s ghost have been reported for the past 144 years, and by some pretty reliable sources. So, on this President’s Day – – which apparently has an apostrophe before the “s” rather than after the “s” – – I’ve decided to pay tribute to that “other” February birthday boy, Abraham Lincoln . . . and his ghost.
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is considered to be the country’s most famous haunted house, and the ghost of Abraham Lincoln is the most commonly reported sighting. Perhaps that’s because he was so darned recognizable in life. You might be interested to know that Abraham Lincoln himself did not believe in ghosts, which is irony at its finest. But, his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln was a big believer in spirits. It is thought that she became interested in spiritualism a decade before she made her home in the White House.
Early on, as First Lady, Mrs. Lincoln was known to attend séances at the homes Washington big wigs. Of course, by 1862, the Lincolns were grieving the death of their son, Willie. It’s assumed that Mrs. Lincoln’s interest in the afterlife was largely in an effort to communicate with Willie.
She began holding séances in the Red Room of the White House shortly after Willie’s death. It is believed that the President attended some of the séances, but that was Mary’s thing, not his. Apparently, these séances brought a great deal of comfort to Mrs. Lincoln. In October 1863, she said to her half sister, “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.”
4 Score and 7 Scares Ago…
It shouldn’t come as a shock then, that Mrs. Lincoln sought the services of spiritualists following President Lincoln’s assassination. It was a different day and age and, evidently, a former First Lady could still get around in relative anonymity. She began attending séances under the assumed name of Mrs. Tundall. Once, at a séance in Boston, she claimed that her dearly departed husband appeared before her.
Later, she visited the studio of William Mumler, a Boston “spirit photographer.” He presented Mrs. Lincoln with a photograph of herself with a ghostly image of Abe photo-bombing her from behind. Personally, the photograph reminds me of a primitive version of those Olan Mills double exposure portraits from the 1970s, but I digress.
Following the Civil War, Mumler had begun photographing the “spirits” of dearly departed family members for those whose sons, brothers and husbands had not returned home. It was a lucrative business until Mumler was brought to trial for fraud, and the famous businessman P.T. Barnum testified against him. Barnum even hired someone to produce a portrait of himself with “Abraham Lincoln’s ghost”. Even though Mumler was acquitted, his popularity waned following that very public trial. However, fraudulent or not, that photo of Abraham Lincoln’s ghost is said to have brought great comfort to Mrs. Lincoln. What is most interesting about this photo is that Mumler always insisted, and even swore under oath, that he hadn’t known he was working for Mrs. Lincoln. He claims to have believed she was Mrs. Tundall. Creepy enough for you yet? Just wait.
The Ghost and Mrs. Coolidge
According to the History Channel, sightings of Lincoln’s ghost occur most often when America is about to face her greatest challenges. It was shortly before the Great Depression when Grace Coolidge, the wife of President Calvin Coolidge, became the first person to admit to spotting what she believed to be the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. She said that she saw President Lincoln peering from a window of the Oval Office, looking across the Potomac River in the direction of Civil War battlefields.
During World War II, Lincoln’s ghost is said to have kept up quite the public appearance schedule around the White House! Winston Churchill claimed that the ghost walked in on him while he was smoking a cigar naked, during a visit to the White House. To me, that indicates that Lincoln’s ghost has a morbid sense of curiosity because I’ve seen pictures of Churchill and I think my ghost would have waited until he had put on a robe or something! At any rate, Churchill staunchly refused to ever spend another night in the White House.
Eleanor Roosevelt claimed to have received multiple visits from Lincoln’s ghost when she used the Lincoln Bedroom as her study, although she never admitted to seeing a physical presence. She also blamed the ghost for the Roosevelt’s family dog, Fala’s, unexplained barking outbursts. If her logic is correct, then I’m pretty sure my house is haunted too, but I’m not about to second-guess Eleanor Roosevelt!
One of FDR’s staffers reported seeing Lincoln’s ghost enter a room, sit down and remove his boots. And, during the FDR administration, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands reported hearing a knock at her room in the White House. When she opened the door, she said she saw Lincoln’s ghost standing in the doorway wearing his stovepipe hat. She was so overwhelmed that she reportedly fainted on the spot.
During the Vietnam War, Lady Bird Johnson believed she felt Lincoln’s aura when she was watching a television show about him. All told, at least six U.S. Presidents and six First Ladies have acknowledged seeing Lincoln’s recognizable figure or sensing his presence. Other sightings have come from Maureen Reagan and her husband, and sundry White House guests and staff.
The Ghosts of Presidents Past
Psychics have theorized that Lincoln continues to haunt the earth because he was never able to finish his official tasks, due to that nasty Ford’s Theatre incident. I am now firmly of the belief that he just wants his birthday to be a national holiday! In my mind, the holiday will always have an apostrophe after the “s”. Happy Presidents’ Day, Mr. Lincoln!
Happy trails y’all,