Editor’s note: The following excerpt is taken from the excellent book “Between Two Worlds” (1964) by Dr. Nandor Fodor. The portion of the book related to President Abraham Lincoln republished here is located on pages 9-11 under the chapter heading “Lincoln and the Unseen.”
Lincoln and the Unseen
Of no single President of the United States has so much been written as of Lincoln.
In view of the unique role he played in American history and in the struggle for freedom of the human spirit, no tribute to his memory could be called overdone. As a liberator of the slaves he will live for humanity ages after other presidents will have been forgotten.
Immediately after his first election, rumors were rife that in his spiritual quest Lincoln took a lively interest in psychic matters. An American medium called J.B. Conklin claimed to have recognized him as the anonymous sitter in several seances in New York. In fact, the Cleveland Plain Dealer seized upon this to charge that Lincoln was a Spiritualist. The charge was given substance by Colonel S.P. Kase in the Spiritual Scientist as follows:
For four succeeding Sundays, Mr. Conklin, the test medium, was a guest at the Presidential Mansion. The result of these interviews was the President’s proposition to his cabinet to issue the proclamation [of freeing the slaves].
Apparently, other mediums joined in the effort of persuasion.
According to Colonel Kase, there was a Mrs. Laurie, his own daughter Mrs. Miller, and Nettie Colburn, who became very well known as an inspirational speaker when she was scarcely out of her teens. She approached the President with closed eyes and addressed him for a full hour and a half. The sum total of her address was:
This civil was will never cease, the shout of victory will never ring through the North, till you issue a proclamation that shall set free the enslaved millions of your unhappy country.
In the same seance at Mrs. Laurie’s house, the President is said to have witnessed some startling phenomena: the piano on which a medium was playing rose four inches from the floor in spite of the efforts of Colonel Kase, Judge Wattles and two of the soldiers who accompanied the President, to hold it down.
In 1891, Nettie Colburn, by marriage to Mrs. Maynard, published a book on her psychic contact with Lincoln under the title: Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist?
We are facing here again the same situation which we considered in relation to MacKenzie King.* What does it mean to be a spiritualist? In the days of Lincoln, Spiritualism enjoyed its first boom. it was not yet exploited by the fraudulent seekers of fame and fortune to the extent as in later years. The appellation was not as ambiguous as in subsequent years when in the press and in the public a growing prejudice began to develop. Again, the answer is that Lincoln may well have accepted the central teaching of Spiritualism (which is a belief in the survival after death) and may well have conducted his own inquiries in a spirit of seeking the truth; but that did not identify him with the movement as such. Hence describing him as a Spiritualist is a misnomer, to say the least.
This construction of Lincoln’s spiritual beliefs in no way denies his psychic sensitivity. Convincing evidence is on the record that Lincoln had presentiments of his coming end. In his Dickens biography, J. Forster quotes from a letter of the novelist dated February 4, 1868, in which he says that on the day of his assassination as extraordinary change was noticeable in Lincoln. According to Senator Charles Sumner, he said:
“Gentleman, something extraordinary will happen, and that very soon.”
The statement was made because of a dream of the night before, occurring the third time. It was:
“I am on a deep, broad, rolling river: I am in a boat, and I am falling in! I am falling in!”
Six weeks before his assassination, he had a clearly prophetic dream that somehow made a deep impression. He told it to a few friends, commenting: “Somehow the thing has got possession of me, and like Banquo’s ghost, it will not down.” This was the 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. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along.
It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find out the cause of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which lay 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 upon the corpse, whose face was 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.”
Then came a loud burst of grief from the the crowd, which awoke me from my dream. I slept no more that night, and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.
The premonitory dream may have had its origin in a vision of Lincoln on the night of his first election as President. As he was resting, tired but awake, in a mirror opposite he saw tow images of himself, one in perfect health, the other pale as a ghost.
Ever since, Lincoln was haunted by this vision. When it occurred a second time, he had the feeling that a catastrophe would befall him in a second term in office. According to Harriet Beech Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the President said: “Whichever way the war ends, I have the impression I shall not last long after it is over.”
Five days after the surrender at Appomattox, he was killed at the Ford Theater by the bullet of an assassin.
It is probably due to the violent nature of his death that the stories of Lincoln’s appearance as a ghost in the White House found their way into gossip columns of the press. According to an article in the New York Journal-American (March 22, 1961):
Any number of persons in the White House believe in the ghost of Lincoln. It was rumored backstairs that Queen Wilhelmina had seen the ghost of Lincoln when she opened the door to as strange knock. The next morning she is supposed to had told FDR, who was not too surprised, because his wife had felt something strange also.
There is no reason why the presence of Lincoln should not be felt at the White House. A great man’s memory may well impregnate the place where he had to make momentous decisions at the cost of the anguish of his soul. But that does not make Lincoln a ghost. It is not he who haunts, but the living who remember. Clothing the memory in visual or auditory garb is dependent on the sensitivity of the living. Speaking of the inspiration of his life, we express the same thing in more mundane terms.
*MacKenzie King served a total of twenty-two years as the Canadian Prime Minister. He is well known for actively researching the supernatural and sitting in on seances while actively serving in office. Dr. Fodor profiled PM King in an earlier chapter of this same book.
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