If you fail to recognise the name Mary Todd Lincoln, you will certainly recognise the name of her husband, President of the United States; Abraham Lincoln. It was sometime in the 1850’s that spiritualism started to sweep across the USA, the Midwest in particular. There were already pockets of mediums in the big cities such as Boston and New York, but the draw of spiritualism was spreading even further. The fact that the newspapers were reporting that Queen Victoria herself, as well as Empress Eugenie, were practicing spiritualism made it even more popular. The possibility of being able to speak with loved ones on ‘the other side’ was appealing and spiritualism grew rapidly. It was probably during this time that Mary first became involved.
Mary buried two sons, Eddie and Willie, the latter of which died in 1862 in the White House. It seems natural therefore that she should seek to contact them if the means were available to her. Mary would visit the home of the Lauries, well known in the Georgetown area, for their mediumistic skills. The séance would take place in the parlour, during which the lights would be turned down low, and Mary would go seeking communication with her dear departed sons.
There were at least eight séances that took place inside the White House while President Lincoln was in residence. While President Lincoln would happily entertain these spiritualist friends of his wife he was never truly a believer himself. Mary was the true spiritualist and she is reported to have told her sister that she regularly witnessed her son Willie standing at the end of the bed and smiling his ‘adorable smile’ at her, and that often he would be accompanied by his younger brother Eddie. She also claimed that she had been visited by their brother Alex, (Lieutenant Alexander H. Todd who was fatally wounded at the battle for Baton Rouge).
A Grieving Widow
Several of her spiritualist friends visited Mary after Abraham’s assassination, offering support and consolation. She claimed that unlike many other friends who disappeared when her husband died, her spiritualist friends remained there for her. She later moved to Chicago and continued attending séances but under an assumed name so as to test the abilities of the medium working the séance. At one séance in Boston Abraham came and stood before her which prompted her to visit a spirit photographer who went on to present her with an image of her seated in a chair, her husband stood behind her with his hands protectively laid on her shoulders. This image was to provide Mary with great comfort. It would appear that Mary herself had some mediumistic skill, allowing her to see the spirits of her sons and other departed family; it would appear to have been her interest in spirituality which allowed it come to the fore. While the whole idea of spiritualism may have been looked on as a fad by many, for Mary it was a way of staying in contact with the men that she held so dear