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
Todd 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):
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."**
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. Additional evidence of
Mary’s interest in spiritualism was recently acquired by The
Lincoln Museum in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. 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 2 weeks later.