Haunted by the President?  Oh, wait – it’s Honest Abe

Michael recently saw the movie Lincoln.  For those who have seen it, and those who haven’t, Daniel Day-Lewis was downright eerie as President Abraham Lincoln.  So were some of the shots, especially the first time we see Lincoln – in the dark, in the rain.   The way Steven Spielberg shot the film really transported you to January 1865.

A daguerrotype of Abraham Lincoln, taken in November 1863 while the Civil War was raging.  Photo from the Library of Congress collection.

A daguerrotype of Abraham Lincoln, taken in November 1863 while the Civil War was raging. Photo from the Library of Congress collection.

Day-Lewis gave us our most definitive, accurate Lincoln ever, by far.  For example, actors like Raymond Massey and Gregory Peck had too deep a voice for Lincoln, who is reported to have had a high pitched one.  Sam Waterston has both played him in a television movie and read his words in Ken Burns’s incredible documentary, “The Civil War” – and has done a very good job; but he’s nothing like Daniel Day-Lewis.  Day-Lewis is now the standard.  Like Lincoln, Day-Lewis now belongs to the ages, or at least the cinematic ones.

Now, what does this have to do with SpookyThings Online?  You probably see where we’re going with this – to a house that at times as seen its share of horrors:  The White House.

According to numerous sources, the White House is purported to be haunted.  In fact, the primary spectral resident appears to be President Lincoln.  Lincoln loved to tell a good story (especially a tall tale), so either he’d appreciate these or really, really is the source of them.

Lincoln’s ghost is one of the most reported by numerous famous guests.  We’ve tried our best to vet the stories for you, and that’s not always easy.  For example, many books and websites include a story of Winston Churchill claiming to have seen Lincoln’s ghost, but I’ve been told personally by one of his esteemed biographers – for a leadership article I wrote on Churchill – that the story isn’t true.  “Pure fiction,” he said.

It seems more likely that the Abraham Lincoln House in Springfield, IL – which Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln lived in from 1844 until they left for the White House in 1861 – may be haunted.  The house at 8th and Jackson Streets is where Mary Todd and Lincoln the lawyer lived and where their children were born.  Although the couple lost their second son, Edward, in 1850, this house is still where they appeared to have the happiest, most peaceful period of their long and later troubled marriage.

Lincoln Home in Springfield, IL (Wikimedia)

The Lincoln Home is a National Historic Site and is run by the National Park Service.  According to Haunted Highway, a book about haunted buildings on or near the historic former U.S. Route 66, the park rangers who staffed the Lincoln Home during the mid-1990s admitted to playing a few pranks on unsuspecting tourists.  For example, making them think the rocking chair in the living room was rocking on its own – when, in fact, they were pulling it by a hidden string.  Maybe you believe that park service rangers would really do something that silly and deceitful, but we have our doubts.  We suspect that instead, they put one over on the gullible authors who interviewed them, i.e., Ellen Robson and Dianne Freeman (Halicki); but that doesn’t mean that the rangers did (or didn’t) see any ghosts, either.

Former Lincoln Home guides, however, did talk at one point to a reporter for one of the local newspapers, the Springfield Journal-Register.  Among other things they supposedly told the paper were that they felt the touch of an invisible hand on occasion; that they heard piano music playing in the parlor when no one was there; that certain pieces of furniture and toys would show up randomly in different parts of the house at different times, without anyone having moved them; that candles that nobody lit were found completely burned down, and that yes, occasionally Lincoln’s favorite rocking chair rocked by itself.  Once, a guide alone in the house was just about to start moving around the furniture in Mary Lincoln’s bedroom when an unseen hand tapped her on the shoulder to discourage her.  Even visitors have said they experienced unexplained events.  One reported having seen a spectral image in a mirror that looked like Mary Todd Lincoln.

The events and sightings surrounding Mr. Lincoln, however, appear to be more frequent in the White House.  Among the reports we found are the following:

First Lady Grace Coolidge:  Mrs. Coolidge said she saw the ghost of Lincoln, standing at a window in the Yellow Oval Room.  The source is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ghosts and Hauntings by Tom Ogden.

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands: In 1942, the visiting monarch heard footsteps outside her White House guest bedroom and answered a knock on the door.  It wasn’t a trick-or-treater – it was Lincoln, in a frock coat and top hat, standing in front of her.  Her royal highness fainted.  One of the places this account is reported is in “The World’s Most Haunted Places: From the Secret Files of Ghostvillage.com” by Jeff Belanger.  This link also has a great interview with the author.

Lynda Bird Johnson:  The then college-age daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson is reported to have seen the ghost of little Willie Lincoln, the late president’s son, and spoken to him.  Willie Lincoln died of typhoid in 1862.  It wasn’t Willie’s first appearance either, apparently.  Willie’s ghost was also reported to have been seen by President Ulysses S. Grant’s staff members during the 1870s. The source on this is Historic Haunted America by Michael Norman and Beth Scott.

Maureen Reagan and her husband: They claimed to have seen a ghost they believed to be Lincoln in the White House.  The source is pretty good, Maureen Reagan herself, in her book First Father, First Daughter: A Memoir.  The best account I could find of it is on the blog Abe’s Blog Cabin.  The book excerpt below is not from the book itself but from another website’s account of it:

“Both Maureen Reagan and her husband claimed to have seen something.  There was a ‘shadowy figure’ by the fireplace.  This was in the Lincoln Bedroom … on another night, a man was seen wearing a red coat.  The figure was transparent!  When he turned around facing Maureen Reagan, he vanished.”

Tony Savoy, Reagan White House operations foreman:  This sighting, too, is reported by Belanger on Ghostvillage.com.  It allegedly happened during the early 1980s.  Savoy came into the White House and saw Lincoln sitting in a chair at the top of one of the sets of stairs.

Also mentioned in the book Historic Haunted America is a report that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s personal valet once supposedly ran screaming from the White House, claiming he had seen Lincoln’s ghost.  We’d have asked for an autograph.

Until next time,
Michael and Marie


One thought on “Haunted by the President?  Oh, wait – it’s Honest Abe

  1. Pingback: Old World origins of The Spooky Holiday Trifecta, Oct. 31 – Nov. 2 | Spooky Things online

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