Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of United States President Abraham Lincoln, was deeply involved in Spiritualist practices. She originally became interested in Spiritualism following the death of her son Willie in 1862. In the months after his passing, Lincoln frequented the home of Mr. and Mrs. Cranstoun Laurie, a family of mediums living in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Lincoln also visited Lily Dale and reportedly held séances in the White House in an attempt to communicate with her deceased son. It is believed there were as many as eight séances hosted in the White House by Mrs. Lincoln. After one of these sittings, Lincoln remarked that “Willie lives. He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of the bed with the same sweet adorable smile he always has had.”
Following the assassination of her husband in 1865, Lincoln entered a period of deep mourning and began to travel across the country visiting Spiritualist mediums. During a trip to Boston, she attended séances using the name “Mrs. Tundall” and at one particular sitting, the spirit of Abraham directed her to visit spirit photographer William H. Mumler.
Seven years after the death of her husband, Lincoln visited Mumler’s studio dressed in a black veil and other mourning attire. She provided the name “Mrs. Lindall” and refused to take off her veil until it was time to take the picture. Mumler claims that while snapping the photo, he never knew the true identity of Mrs. Lincoln and assumed she was, in fact, Mrs. Lindall.
Lincoln returned to Mumler’s studio three days later to collect her pictures. Mumler’s wife, Hannah Mumler, gave Mrs. Lincoln the envelope with her pictures and asked if she recognized the likeness.
She responded “Yes—yes dear. I do recognize it,” and subsequently revealed her true identity. After weeping at the sight of what appeared to be her deceased husband and son, Mrs. Lincoln asked Mumler “how long before she could join them in their spirit home?”
- Kaplan, Louis. The Strange Case of William H. Mumler, Spirit Photographer. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
- Uncle Fester