By Ashley Kath-Bilsky
Namely: What happens after we die? Do ghosts exist? Do all souls go to heaven? If not, what happens to the rest? Do restless spirits haunt people and places? No matter where you live on the planet Earth, the question of ghosts and/or spirits watching over us remains a mystery mankind still wants to solve.
You may have visited a Ghost Town in the American West, where dusty streets and a neglected cemetery are all that remains of the people who once lived there? Perhaps you toured a castle in Scotland reputed to be haunted? I have and, trust me, there are several. You may even have experienced an adrenalin rush hearing ghostly footsteps. Was it just your overactive imagination or did a gathering mist take the shape of a person? Then again, perhaps you just love a good ghost story.
[Pictured: Costume sketch for Hamlet, Act I, featuring the father of Hamlet and the spirit warriors. Public Domain]
Let's not forget popular fiction for children that also featured ghosts and/or addressed spiritualism, from ‘The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow’ by Washington Irving (1862) to the worldwide phenomenal Harry Potter 7-book series (1997-2007) by J.K. Rowling.
Regardless of how many centuries have eclipsed into history, fascination about ghosts, haunted locations, misty apparitions, and even psychic communications with the spirit realm remain strong. Films, stage plays, and television continuously adapt many works of Gothic or paranormal fiction to their medium, and quite profitably.
Let’s face it; death is the final door through which we all must pass. And the number of people in the 21st century who still seek to obtain an answer to this ancient mystery has, if anything, grown stronger.
And it is the concept of spiritualism, the ability to communicate with the dead, that brings me to the White House. Picture this. The country is at war. Death seems to surround everyone and, most likely, a sense of hopelessness as well. As America's then Commander-In-Chief wearily tries to focus his attention on the dire circumstances of his Presidency, he is also cognizant that his fragile wife is overcome with grief--unable to come to terms with the death of two of her young sons. And so it was that on 23 April 1863, President Abraham Lincoln attended a séance. Was it any wonder that Mary Todd Lincoln, lost in the enveloping waters of her sadness, grasped onto the possibility of communicating with her boys.
I tend to think that since he sanctioned the séances at the White House, Lincoln must have experienced some type of validation. One must also remember that Abraham Lincoln clearly had psychic ability of his own. Ten days before his Assassination, he experienced a prophetic dream that he would be killed. Three days before his death, he told his friend and biographer, Ward Hill Lamon, about the vivid, disturbing, recurring dream. Each night of the three nights leading up to the day of his Assassination, Lincoln had the same dream. Ultimately, on the fateful day, Lincoln told William H. Crook (a bodyguard) about the dreams. Although Crook advised Lincoln to not attend the play that evening, the President replied he'd promised his wife. Then, as he departed the White House, Lincoln said 'goodbye' to Crook, the first and only time he'd said that to the man. Before that instance, Lincoln always bid Crook 'goodnight'.
After the murder of her husband, Mary Todd Lincoln's interest in spiritualism increased, and she continued to attend and participate in séances. Whether or not the mediums whose services she sought were truly gifted we will never know. One can only hope they did not prey upon such a fragile lady who had lost so much and suffered such heartbreaking losses.
According to Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of Lincoln's neighbors in Illinois asked if he believed in a future realm after death. Lincoln allegedly replied, "I'm afraid there isn't. It isn't a pleasant thing to think that when we die, that is the last of us."
One can only speculate if Lincoln haunts the White House because he has now become part of the mystery that eludes us and seeks to communicate that knowledge? What wisdom does he wish to impart, if indeed his spirit lingers? Can a physical death destroy an intangible soul? Or does that soul move on and perhaps, on occasion, even visit the living?
And so, the mystery continues. We still search for answers. Until then, what do you believe?
Happy Halloween! ~ AKB
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