History.com, Editors, “The Lingering Legend of Abraham Lincoln’s Ghost, Oct. 28, 2019, HISTORY, https://www.history.com/topics/Halloween.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States (1861-1865), is remembered for his vital role as the leader in preserving the Union during the Civil War and beginning the process that led to the end of slavery in the United States. He’s remembered for his character, his speeches and letters and as a man of humble origins whose determination and perseverance led him to the nation’s highest office.
He is also remembered for his untimely death and his supposed afterlife in the White House.
For years, presidents, first ladies, guests, and members of the White House staff have claimed to have either seen Lincoln or felt his presence. The melancholy bearing of Lincoln himself and several instances of eerie prescience on his part, only add to the legends of the Great Emancipator’s ghost.
Abraham Lincoln Sees His Own Death
By the time of his 1864 reelection, deep lines etched Lincoln’s face and heavy black circles underlined his eyes. During his five years as commander-in-chief, he had slept little and taken no vacations. There may have been more to his sadness than even he would admit: Lincoln dreamed of his own death.
Ward Hill Lamon, a close friend of the president’s, wrote down what Lincoln told him on an evening in early 1865: “About ten days ago I retired very late,” the president told Lamon. “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.
“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.”
It was not the first time Lincoln “saw” his own death. Soon after his election in 1860, he’d seen a double image of his face reflected in a mirror in his Springfield, Ill., home. One was his “real” face, the other a pale imitation. Lincoln’s superstitious wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, did not see the mirror images but was deeply troubled by her husband’s account of the incident. She prophesied that the sharper image indicated that he would serve out his first term. The faint, ghostlike image was a sign, she said, that he would be renominated for a second term, but would not live to complete it.
On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was shot by a Southern sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, in the back of the head as he watched Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater. He died at 7:22 the next morning, April 15, 1865.
It is true that tragedy had stalked Lincoln long before his first presidential term. His beloved mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died when her son was nine. When Lincoln’s first love, Ann Rutledge, died of typhoid fever, he lapsed into a melancholy that may have led to his emotional breakdown a few years later.