Friday, June 26, 2009

Abraham Lincoln and the supernatural

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States, and the first to be assassinated. He lived a deeply sad life - the death of his mother, the death of his first fiancee, Ann Rutledge, a turbulent marriage to Mary Todd, and the deaths of two of his children (another child, Thomas, died in 1871). Lincoln often sat by his son Willie's crypt, crying for hours. Mary Lincoln's method of coping was to immerse herself in seances, much like Sarah Winchester in years to come, attempting to communicate with her deceased sons.

Early in the year 1865, Lincoln spoke of a dream he had had: "About ten days ago I retired very late...I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a deathlike stillness about me. Then I 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 alone...I was puzzled and alarmed.

"Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face covered, others weeping pitifully.

"'Who is dead in the White House?' I demanded of one of the soldiers. 'The President,' was his answer. 'He was killed by an assassin.'"

The outburst of grief at this news was so loud that Lincoln awoke. On April 14, with the Civil War finally at an end, he was attending a play at Ford's Theatre when he was shot in the back of the head by actor and Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln was carried to a nearby boarding house, where he died at 7:22 a.m., April 15, 1865.

The grief surrounding this first presidential assassination was overwhelming; people wept openly in the streets. Lincoln, who had not been a very popular president, suddenly became a hero and a martyr to millions.

After lying in state in the East Room, as in his dream, Lincoln's body was put on a train to Springfield, Illinois. According to popular legend, on the anniversary of this sad trip, two ghost trains are seen slowly traveling between Washington, D.C. and Illinois. The first train contains a military band (sometimes reported as a band of skeletons) playing a funeral dirge. A second steam engine follows it, pulling a flatbed car with Lincoln's coffin resting on it. They never do arrive in Springfield.

A curious twist of fate involves Lincoln's oldest son, Robert. Late in 1864 or early in 1865, Robert was standing on the platform of a railway station as a train pulled in. Robert was somehow swept off his feet and found himself falling into the gap between the train and the platform; had he fallen, he would have been crushed. A stranger on the platform seized his collar and pulled him to safety.

Robert turned to thank the man, and recognized him: He was Edwin Booth, a very popular actor, whose far-less-successful brother was John Wilkes Booth. Edwin had no idea that he had saved the President's son until Robert sent him a heartfelt letter of gratitude later. After the assassination, Edwin took comfort in the fact that he had been able to save one of the Lincolns.

When Ulysses S. Grant was president, one of the household staff claimed to have seen Willie and talked to him.

Calvin Coolidge's wife Grace Coolidge was the first person to report seeing Abraham Lincoln's ghost. She claimed to have seen him standing at a window in the Oval Office, hands behind his back, looking across the Potomac River.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, the country first experienced the Great Depression, and then, World War II. Lincoln's ghost was seen more often at this time.

During the war, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was a guest at the White House. One night, she was awakened by a knock on her door. When she opened the door, she was confronted by the figure of President Lincoln standing in the hallway. The queen fainted; when she came to, she was lying across the threshold, alone - the ghost was gone.

Once, Mary Eben, Eleanor Roosevelt's secretary, found Lincoln's ghost in the northwest bedroom, sitting on the bed. He was pulling on his boots. The secretary screamed and ran, bursting in on Mrs. Roosevelt and shouting, "He's up there, pulling on his boots!"

"Who is?" Mrs. Roosevelt asked.

"Mr. Lincoln!" was the reply.

Other staff members of the FDR administration said they'd seen Lincoln lying on his bed occasionally, in the afternoons.

During the Truman administration, his daughter Margaret, who slept in that area of the White House, often heard knocks on her door late at night. She never found anyone when she investigated. She told her father, who thought the noises must be caused by the floors settling; he then had the White House rebuilt entirely. It was the best decision he could have made - the chief architect told Truman that the building had been in danger of collapsing. Was Lincoln's ghost trying to warn the Trumans of the danger?

No reports of Lincoln's ghost have been made in recent times... but given his haunted life and death, one may occur at any time.

Lincoln's son Robert, the only one who lived to adulthood, sat by his father's bedside and watched him die. In 1881, working for President Garfield's administration, Robert witnessed Charles Guiteau shoot Garfield, who died weeks later. In 1901, Robert was invited to the Pan-American Exposition. It was here that Leon Czolgosz shot President McKinley.

Robert became convinced that he was a curse; he was afraid to associate with any other President, due to these deaths. However, he did allow himself to meet with then-President Harding, in 1922, to unveil the Lincoln Memorial.

Harding died in office the following year.

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