Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday Special:
The spirit of Lincoln haunts the halls and paths of the United States, even if it doesn’t.
⁓The Voice before the Void
There have been several stories about ghosts of former Presidents revisiting the White House. However, the most common and popular is that of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s ghost, otherwise known as the White House Ghost, is said to have haunted the White House since his death.
It is believed that Lincoln anticipated his assassination. According to Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln’s friend and biographer, three days before his assassination Lincoln discussed with Lamon and others a dream he had, saying:
“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like 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. I saw 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 the cause of a state 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 rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully 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 crowd, which woke 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.”
On the day of the assassination, Lincoln had told his bodyguard, William H. Crook, that he had been having dreams of himself being assassinated for three straight nights. Crook tried to persuade the president not to attend a performance of the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre that night, or at least allow him to go along as an extra bodyguard, but Lincoln said he had promised his wife they would go. As Lincoln left for the theater, he turned to Crook and said, “Goodbye, Crook.” Crook later recalled, “It was the first time that he neglected to say ‘Good Night’ to me and it was the only time that he ever said ‘Good-bye.’ I thought of it at that moment and, a few hours later, when the news flashed over Washington that he had been shot, his last words were so burned into my being that they can never be forgotten.”
Reported apparitions of Lincoln’s ghost
President Theodore Roosevelt claimed to have seen a spectral Lincoln in the White House.
First Lady Grace Coolidge said she saw the ghost of Lincoln standing at a window in the Yellow Oval Room staring out at the Potomac.
Several unnamed eyewitnesses have claimed to have seen the shade of Abraham Lincoln actually lying down on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom (which was used as a meeting room at the time of Lincoln’s administration), while others have seen Lincoln sit on the edge of the bed and put his boots on, including Mary Eben, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s secretary, who saw Lincoln pulling on his boots, after which she ran screaming from the room.
Eleanor Roosevelt never admitted to having seen Lincoln’s ghost, but did say that she felt his presence repeatedly throughout the White House. She said that the family dog, Fala, would sometimes bark for no reason at what she felt was Lincoln’s ghost.
A number of staff members of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration claimed to have seen Lincoln’s spirit. On one occasion, Roosevelt’s personal valet ran screaming from the White House claiming he had seen the ghost of Lincoln.
In 1942, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands heard footsteps outside her White House bedroom and answered a knock on the door, only to see Lincoln in frock coat and top hat standing in front of her; she promptly fainted.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill loved to retire late, take a long, hot bath while drinking a Scotch, and smoke a cigar and relax. On one occasion while staying in the White House, he climbed out of the bath, and naked but for his cigar, walked into the adjoining bedroom. He was startled to see Lincoln standing by the fireplace in the room, leaning on the mantle. Churchill, always quick on the uptake, simply took his cigar out of his mouth and said, “Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” Lincoln smiled softly and disappeared.
Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry S. Truman, said she heard a specter rapping at the door of the Lincoln Bedroom when she stayed there, and believed it was Lincoln. President Truman himself was once wakened by raps at the door while spending a night in the Lincoln Bedroom.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s press secretary, James Hagerty, and Liz Carpenter, press secretary to First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, both said they felt Lincoln’s presence many times.
White House seamstress Lillian Rogers Parks admitted in her 1961 autobiography, My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House, that she had heard spectral footsteps in the hall outside the Lincoln Bedroom.
Maureen Reagan, President Ronald Reagan’s daughter, and her husband claimed to have seen the ghost of Lincoln in the White House.
Tony Savoy, White House operations foreman during the Reagan administration, once entered the White House and saw Lincoln sitting in a chair at the top of some stairs.
Lincoln’s ghost has reportedly been seen outside the White House as well. Other Lincoln hauntings include his grave in Springfield, Illinois; a portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln; and a phantom train on nights in April along the same path his funeral train followed from Washington, D.C. to Springfield.
Abraham Lincoln is not the only Lincoln ghost witnesses claim to have seen in the White House. Willie Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, died in the White House of typhoid fever on February 20, 1862. Willie Lincoln’s ghost was first seen in the White House by staff members of the Ulysses S. Grant administration in the 1870s. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, claimed to had seen the ghost of Willie Lincoln in the 1960s and to have talked to him.