In celebration and in memory of President Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday was on February 12, I thought it would be interesting to explore Lincoln's past, as well as the ghostly phenomena which surrounds our 16th president.
There are many rumors as to the White House being haunted by former presidents, but none seem to be as popular as those surrounding President Lincoln. There are several well-documented records which claim that Abe Lincoln has made his presence known in spirit form. It's not only the White House he presumably haunts, but Ford's Theatre where he was assassinated, his old homestead, his grave site and his funeral train.
It's important to look at Lincoln's life while on the earth plane first. He served as President during an exceptionally difficult time in our nation's history. It was the time of the Civil War, and it is said that it was a period of great sorrow for Lincoln. He was often seen at the window of the Oval Office with his hands behind his back, looking out toward the bloodied battlefields across the Potomac River. He was greatly saddened by the loss of life on both sides. Lincoln's greatest toll, however, was a personal tragedy which befell his family on February 20, 1862 when his young son Willie died from an unknown illness. It is said that President Lincoln took his son's death so terribly, that Abe was on the verge of committing suicide. His wife Mary was no better. She was completely distraught.
Abraham Lincoln had a strong interest in Spiritualism early on, and after Willie's death it became even more prominent in his life. In 1842, Lincoln wrote a letter to his friend Joshua F. Speed which stated that he 'had a strong tendency to mysticism' and that he often felt compelled 'by some other power than my own will'. He claimed this power came 'from above'. Mediums frequented the White House, and many believe that through their guidance and those of the spirit world, Abraham Lincoln came to free the slaves. Seances were even held at the White House, and many Spiritualists were guests there. Lincoln claimed that Willie's spirit was with him, and he often said he could 'feel' his presence on a regular basis. Some believe that Willie's spirit lingered before crossing over to the other side because Lincoln was so obsessed with the boy's death.
Lincoln was very private about his Spiritualism, and kept his beliefs from the public. His wife Mary, on the other hand, was very open and was later criticized for her beliefs. Through mediumship the Lincolns were able to connect to their beloved Willie, which ultimately helped to ease their grief. Abe Lincoln was 'sensitive' to the spirit world and he often had visions and premonitions including that of his own death. His report of this vision, which came to him in a dream, was written down and is well documented. It occurred ten days before his assassination from John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865.
As if things weren't odd enough, the body of Abraham Lincoln was buried and exhumed five times for various reasons including that of a potential grave robbery. To this day it is still unclear as to why the body had to be reburied so many times, and there is mystery surrounding the fact that perhaps Lincoln is not really in the grave he is believed to be in. His final resting place is in an underground vault, covered in concrete, in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln's wife Mary was buried in the catacomb as well. Before she died, Mary claimed to have talked to her husband every day. She even hired a spiritual photographer to photograph her, and when the photo was developed, a faint image of Lincoln appeared behind her. At their grave sites people claim to hear weeping, footsteps and voices.
The old Lincoln homestead in Springfield is maintained by a historical society and is open to the public. There have been many reports of ghostly phenomena. Visitors have claimed to see the figure of a tall thin man holding the hand of a little boy, which is believed to be Willie. Others have felt cold spots, while some claim to have been touched by an invisible person. There have also been reports of objects moving around, music being played from unknown sources, and voices talking.
At Ford's Theatre, guests and actors alike claim to hear the haunted footsteps of John Wilkes Booth as he ran up the stairs towards the President. Some people have seen the apparitions of both Lincoln and Booth together, apparently trying to work out their differences. Strange sounds, laughter, and crying have also been reported as well as lights going on and off. From the stage, many actors have said that during performances they've seen lights mysteriously flashing in Lincoln's box which is permanently closed to the public.
As for the White House, there have been many sightings and occurrences. President Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman all claimed to have heard knocking on their bedroom doors. When the door was opened, no one was there. For reasons unknown, they all believed it to be the ghost of Lincoln. During Calvin Coolidge's stay at the White House, his wife reported actually seeing Lincoln in the Oval office. What she described was Lincoln staring out the window with his hands folded behind his back. As mentioned earlier, this was how he was often seen while he was alive. Lincoln's biographer, Carl Sandburg, claimed to 'feel a strong presence' of Lincoln in this same area, although he did not see him.
It was during Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration when the ghost of Lincoln seemed to be most active. Many say it is because both presidents were in power during a time of war. Whatever the reason may be, during Roosevelt's thirteen year occupancy of the White House many people actually saw Lincoln's ghost. Lincoln's former bedroom had been turned into a study for first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She consistently reported having the feeling that someone was watching her or that someone was in the room with her. Without a doubt, she believed this to be Lincoln. One of Eleanor's maids actually saw Lincoln sitting on one of the beds in the White House, pulling off his shoes.
Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was a guest at the White House during Roosevelt's time. She claimed to be awaken from sleep by a knock at her bedroom door. When she got up and opened the door, she saw the ghost of Lincoln standing before her, staring at her. She actually fainted from the site of him, and when she finally woke the apparition was gone.
One of the best stories I've heard has to do with Sir Winston Churchill's White House stay. Apparently Churchill was very into taking long baths. On one occasion he climbed out of the bath and walked naked into the adjoining bedroom. To his utter surprise, Abraham Lincoln was standing by the fireplace leaning on the mantle and staring at him. Churchill, who was never at a loss for words said, "Good evening Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage." The ghost smiled, looked away and then disappeared.
Things seemed to calm down after that, and since the Truman administration there have been less reports. During Truman's stay at the White House there was extensive remodeling done on the home. Perhaps Lincoln didn't like the changes. However, Lyndon B. Johnson claimed to have spoken to Lincoln's ghost, and Ronald Reagan's daughter Maureen and her husband saw 'a transparent figure' several times in Lincoln's old bedroom.
Lastly, Lincoln's ghostly funeral train was seen for years by hundreds of people. At the time of his death there was a great demand for the public to see his body, so a special funeral train carried him from Washington through New York State and then west to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. The trip took over two weeks because of the number of cities it stopped in. In total, over two million mourners filed past the open coffin. From that time on, every April two trains have been seen marking the anniversary of Lincoln's death. One ghostly train pulls a line of black-draped railroad cars, while the other train pulls a flatbed car on which Lincoln's casket rests.
The stories and mysteries surrounding our great president are endless. I've only touched upon them here. For reasons unknown, Abraham Lincoln's spirit has continued to visit the earth plane. As fascinating as this is, it is important to remember the president that he was, and the important role he played in the development of our country.
Kerriann Flanagan Brosky is the author of Ghosts of Long Island; Stories of the Paranormal and Ghosts of Long Island II; More Stories of the Paranormal. Both books are available in local bookstores and on Amazon.com in hardcover and in e-format.