Good Friday: The Day Lincoln Died

 

01 Gardner Lincoln fatal look

     Today is the day that Lincoln died. It was on April 14, 1865—another Good Friday to be precise—that Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth President, was murdered in cold blood.  Young Mary Brennan, an Irish immigrant only recently arrived to our shores, remembered well that dreadful day for the rest of her life.  A devout Catholic, she, like many a Protestant of the day, regarded Good Friday, the day Christ died, as a solemn holy day and one not to be commemorated by going out the theater.  “He never would have died,” she would often say, ”had he not gone to see a play on Good Friday.”  Great grandmother was a font of such sayings and superstitions, she was, and her many descendants can still recite one or another of her sayings at will.

Another political commentary on Secession
A political cartoon from the time of the Civil War, showing John Bull (England) and Napoleon Bonaparte (France) waiting in the background for the US to be destroyed.

     But Abraham Lincoln, never a “technical Christian,” had ample reason to celebrate that Friday, April 14 so many years ago.  Robert E. Lee and his army had surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant scarcely a week before and that very morning the general was delivering his report to the President and Cabinet in person.  For the first time in four years, Lincoln, who frequently suffered from “melancholy” seemed uncommonly hopeful, now that the end of the Rebellion was in sight.  Lincoln could at last look ahead to the future, to peace and to the task of rebuilding a nation torn apart by a fratricidal conflict.

pp Lincoln and Cabinet Emancipation Proc.
Lincoln and his Cabinet earlier in the war. Their last meeting was on the day he died, April 14, when he told them of his “usual dream.”

     As his Cabinet chatted before the official beginning of the meeting, Lincoln also told them that Friday about the “usual dream” he had had only the night before.  He explained that before every major event of the war he had dreamed the same dream: of a ship sailing towards a distant shore.  It always portended important war news.  Lincoln, raised on presentments, omens and prophetic dreams, believed that this latest portent was a sign of something momentous about to happen.

Uncle Billy & Uncle Joe

  Cabinet met, Lincoln was expecting news from Sherman in North Carolina, where “Uncle Billy” had run to ground the once proud Confederate Army of Tennessee, now commanded by “Uncle Joe” Johnston.  Johnston’s force was but a hollow shell of what it had once been, but the proud Rebels, barefoot and in rags, could still fight like wildcats—albeit cornered wildcats.  Lincoln hoped to hear that Johnston too had surrendered, marking the end of organized resistance.  Surely the “usual dream” portended this, thought Lincoln.

     Later that day, as Lincoln and his wife readied for the theater, the President was in an uncommonly optimistic mood, not realizing the prophetic dream portended not good news on Good Friday, but ill.  For even as they dressed for the night, across town a band of conspirators were also preparing for the night—but their performance would end in death and mayhem.

     Much has been written about that day and about the conspirators led by John Wilkes Booth; yet, to this day there is no certainty as to how deeply the Booth Conspiracy to do away with Lincoln and his Cabinet ran.  To be sure, many were arrested and most of the leading conspirators executed.  But Mary Lincoln, for one, had her suspicions that there were others involved who got away—including some high placed in the Lincoln administration.  Mrs. Grant too, had had a terrifying incident that day that lead her to believe not all the culprits had been caught.  But historians hate loose ends and the strands of evidence pointing to a broader conspiracy lie moldering in archives and museums little looked at or considered. Still, the truth may still be out there.

John Wilkes Booth
John Wilkes Booth, actor, Rebel spy and leader of the conspiracy to murder Lincoln

     What is proven about the events of Good Friday, April 14, is tragic enough, however.  Just as Lincoln’s ship of state was about to reach that far and distant shore of peace, the captain—Lincoln—was cut down.  How different our history would have been had Lincoln survived to oversee the peace as he had the war!  We can be sure that the “Better Angels of our Nature” would have thrived under his leadership and the postwar darkness and violence, and the enduring aftermath of meanness and divisiveness that still dogs our nation to this day would have been greatly diminished, if not prevented entirely.

     Greatness is not to be measured in the number of bombs one drops or the number of innocents one kills; Lincoln did not rejoice in war and wished it brought to a speedy end.  No, what was great about Lincoln and Lincoln’s America was its struggle for equality, for social justice, and for the betterment of the average worker, not some aristocratic elite. The President who created land-grant universities to provide free college education, who redistributed millions of acres of land to any who would settle and till it, who fought and died for racial equality, and who sought to unite the nation from seas to sea with modern transportation: these and other social and economic programs were what truly made Lincoln great—not his leadership of a war that was forced on him by the Cotton Slaveocracy and other elites who benefitted from human bondage.  In the end, Lincoln paid for his achievements in human progress with his life.  As we commemorate Good Friday this April 14, this too should be borne in mind.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
For the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.

 

 

 

 

 

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins). True uncanny tales of the Civil War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mary and the Mediums: Fact or Fallacy?

Abraham Lincoln's association ante-dates his wife's, although both attended séances, separately and together.

Ever since President Lincoln’s murder–some would say martyrdom– there have been those who have wanted to re-cast Abraham Lincoln in their image, especially when it cam to his spiritual beliefs. No soon was the President’s body cold, than herds of fundamentalist bible-thumpers came out of the woodwork trying to make him into a devout Christian in their own likeness, applying thick layers of plaster to his alleged sainthood and disguising the real man beneath.

Conversely, post-war Spiritualists, who tried to turn the secular movement into a religion—and thereby drawing the animosity of mainstream Christianity—tried to claim the dead President as one of their own. These efforts continue even today, with modern Spiritualists not only certain that Lincoln was one of them, but that he continues to speak to them through one or another modern oracle.

Historians—especially that influential group who idealize the Sixteenth President—even if they haven’t always sided with the bible-thumpers, have generally denied any connection between Lincoln and the Spiritualists. Whenever the facts rear their ugly heads, these historians lay it all at the feet of Mary Todd Lincoln—an admittedly easy target. Generally they characterize Mary as neurotic, bitchy and vain—if not outright crazy—and the entire crowd of Washington Spiritualists as all “charlatans.”

That some mediums were indeed phonies and fakes is undeniable; but there were many involved in the movement, especially in wartime D.C., who were sincere in their beliefs. Whether they were actually in touch with the spirit world is a moot issue and clearly outside the realm of history.

What is the truth about Lincoln, Mary and the mediums? In my book, The Paranormal Presidency, I go into some depth on the subject, based on extensive research into the primary sources, and come up with a great deal new information. While there is no doubt much more yet to be uncovered, I have come up with contemporary evidence proving Lincoln’s active involvement with the movement and its individuals. For one thing, I did what previous historians apparently neglected to do—researched contemporary newspapers and the Library of Congress holdings to uncover corroborating evidence.

As a result of this original research, there is now substantial evidence that Lincoln frequented the company of mediums and psychics before Mary did. This is supported by newspaper accounts, documents in the Library of Congress and postwar testimony.

After the death of their middle son Willie in 1862, both Abraham and Mary had visions and dreams about Willie and were both motivated to attend séances more often. This too is substantiated.

Seances were commonplace in America before the war, both to get in touch with loved ones and also as a form of parlor entertainment. The Lincolns were not unusual in this regard.
Seances were commonplace in America before the war, both to get in touch with loved ones and also as a form of parlor entertainment. The Lincolns were not unusual in this regard.

Abraham and Mary were by no means unique or peculiar in attending séances or seeking out the advice of mediums. Many parents lost young children to disease in the 1840’s and 1850’s and went to séances to get in contact with them; the war added to the number of grieving families who resorted to mediums for solace.  Moreover, Washington D.C. was a very unhealthy place to be, having built over a malarial swamp and with a sewer system that was beyond abysmal.  Willie was not the only child to die there due to Washington’s unhealthy environment

Abraham Lincoln attended one session at the Laurie household where the Laurie's adopted daughter, a physical medium, allegedly caused a grand piano to
Abraham Lincoln attended one session at the Laurie household where the Laurie’s adopted daughter, a physical medium, allegedly caused a grand piano to “dance” with Lincoln and other eyewitnesses on it.

There is not sufficient space here to go into greater detail about the Lincoln’s involvement in séances; for more documentation, including the footnotes and bibliography, see chapters 14 and 15 of the Paranormal Presidency, which also goes into far greater depth regarding the political ramifications of Spiritualism and its relationship to various reform movements before the Civil War.

While we can document what Lincoln did with regard to séances and mediums, divining what he actually believed is much harder. Lincoln was a notoriously close-mouthed man and as one of the greatest politicians in American history, he had an extraordinary knack of making people think he believed as they did, without actually committing to anything.

What we can say for sure is that both Lincoln and Mary frequented séances and sought out the services of mediums—and that is fact.  Moreover, many of Lincoln’s political associates and their wives also attended séances and while many of the mediums they went too may have been on the con, many were sincere believers in the movement, a movement which overlapped with Abolitionism, Feminism and other social and political reform movements of the era.  So Mary, whatever her faults (and they were many) was neither crazy, not neurotic, nor the gullible shrew her political enemies, North and South, portrayed her to be.

Moreover, regarding the her well documented consorting with Spiritualists after the war, I think we may cut her some slack on this score too.  If, after losing half your family and seeing your husband murdered before your very eyes, you resort to séances to assuage your grief, perhaps that is not such a bad thing.  Mary Todd Lincoln had her flaws, but she had many virtues too.  It is a pity she has never been given her due.

There were many in the North unhappy with Lincoln's involvement with Spiritualism and blamed the war on these
There were many in the North unhappy with Lincoln’s involvement with Spiritualism and blamed the war on these “Satanic” connections.
“Interior Causes of the War” was anti-Lincoln propaganda written during the war, claiming he President was a puppet of the Spiritualists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
For the first time documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.
ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor, served as a soldier in the front lines throughout the Civil War. Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Bierce’s life.

The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln

 

Fayette Hall Lincoln on Dancing Piano fac 34a

In my recent book, The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, (Schiffer Press) I document in depth Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and practices regarding the supernatural.  Although Lincoln’s fascination with the paranormal has been talked about by historians such as Carl Sandburg and others for generations, before this present book, no one had taken a serious or objective look at the evidence.

On a number of occasions Lincoln attended séances, both at the White House and elsewhere, with famed psychic Nettie Colburn Maynard.
On a number of occasions Lincoln attended séances, both at the White House and elsewhere, with famed psychic Nettie Colburn Maynard.

The Paranormal Presidency  changes all that. In heavily footnoted chapter after chapter, we analyze various claims relating to Lincoln’s belief in the paranormal and certain practices which he actually participated in.

However, one issue which I did not tackle directly was the question of whether Lincoln actually was psychic or not. While I document what Lincoln and his contemporaries believed in, practiced and experienced, whether such phenomena really were supernatural or not–whether there is even really such a thing as the paranormal–all that is beyond the scope of historical enquiry.

Rather, I left it to the reader to weigh the evidence and decide for themselves.

Suffice it to say, however, that from early youth Lincoln had a firm belief in things we would call supernatural. Prophetic dreams, visions, omens and signs, and other uncanny events: all were part and parcel of Lincoln’s life, career and the world he lived in.

In future articles in this blog I will go into more specifics, providing details of Lincoln and his associates’ uncanny encounters and the nature of the evidence I evaluated in reaching my conclusions which I did not go into in the book. In many cases what they believed to be true directly affected their decision-making during the Civil War.

Lincoln's Assassination on Good Friday of 1865 was not the end of paranormal incidents regarding the president.  Many claim to have seen him in various locations in both Washington and in Springfield, Illinois
Lincoln’s Assassination on Good Friday of 1865 was not the end of paranormal incidents regarding the president. Many claim to have seen him in various locations in both Washington and in Springfield, Illinois

For more details about Lincoln’s relationship to paranormal, supernatural and unexplainable events, see The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
For the first time this book documents Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and experiences dealing with the paranormal. The Paranormal Presidency chronicles his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his participation in séances and Spiritualism.
ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor, served as a soldier in the front lines throughout the Civil War. Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Bierce’s life.