He Performed Seances in the White House
Editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin and author of “Occult America”, Mitch Horowitz spoke to Big Think about the seances held at the white house during Lincoln’s time as President. He describes that contact with the supernatural was spurred by the loss of President Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, who had fallen ill shortly after the Lincolns moved into the White House.
Horowitz notes that there are several historical records that allege a seance was held at the White House, but that it is difficult for historians to assess which sources are reliable.
The most noteworthy account was one that appeared in the Boston Gazette, when Lincoln permitted a correspondent to be present during a seance that was designed as an attempt to contact his late son.
“The proceedings were pure Lincoln,” states Horowitz. “He was in good humor, he was in good spirits—to put it a certain way—he was teasing people…From the content of the article, I think there’s reason to think that something did go on like what was reported.”
Horowitz notes a caveat, however, stating that the article refers to a medium by the name of Charles Shockle, and there were no records of a Charles Shockle appearing in any “spiritualist newspapers” of that time period.
Nonetheless, various facets of the account ring true. Moreover, it would make sense at the time for Lincoln to not only permit a seance to be performed at the White House, but for him to utilize the press in a way to make his experiment with spiritualism widespread knowledge.
At the time, spiritualism and the use of mediums was considered socially progressive, and something several liberals had already begun experimenting with as part of parlor room entertainment. Rather than paint Lincoln as eccentric—which would likely be the sentiment today if news camera caught our current President kicking back with a Ouja Board—the supernatural experiments would actually work in Lincoln’s favor, expounding upon the image he put forth as an open-minded, progressive frontiersman.
Thieves Attempted to Rob Lincoln’s Grave and Hold it For Ransom
Historian John Carroll Power details the attempts by thieves to rob the late President Lincoln’s grave, as well as the subsequent relocation of Lincoln’s coffin in his work, History of an attempt to steal the body of Abraham Lincoln. In total, Lincoln’s coffin has been opened five times and moved 17 times.
Roger J. Norton offers an overview of the most notable attempt on Lincoln’s grave, which was by gang leaders “Big Jim” Kinealy and a crew of thieves on November 7, 1876. The gang planned to steal Lincoln’s remains and hold the government to a ransom of $200,000.
Little did Kinealy know that a mole existed within his gang of thieves—Secret Service agent Lewis G. Swegles. On the night of the robbery, Swells alerted a band of detectives who went to charge Kinealy and his crew, but the gang managed to escape. They were apprehended in Chicago 10 days later.
As cited by Norton, “Robert Lincoln, Abraham’s son, hired the best lawyers in Chicago to prosecute Kinealy’s gang. The case didn’t come to trial for eight months. Finally, the trial began, and the grave robbers were found guilty and sentenced to one year in Joliet State Prison. On June 22, 1877, a train took the convicted tomb robbers to the prison to begin their terms.”
Today, the 16th President’s final resting place is the Lincoln Tomb, located in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois.