The Medium and the Message: the Evidence for Lincoln’s Encounters with Psychics.

Abraham Lincoln visited mediums and attended séances with and without his wife, dating to before the war.

Abraham Lincoln visited mediums and attended séances with and without his wife, dating to before the war.

 

I must first apologize for being remiss of late in updating the Late Unpleasantness.  I’m afraid like many, the summer heat has made me lax–that and having the house torn up with a major renovation–so my various files and notes are every which way for now.  Of course I am not solely guilty of this venial sin: August is traditionally a month when nothing gets done in publishing.  I am still awaiting final approval from one publisher n one book and I have been querying agents left and right (or write) for my latest manuscript.  With summer waning into fall, however, it is time to get caught up.  Halloween is just around the corner after all.

This outing let us delve a little into a much neglected aspect of Abraham Lincoln: his interest—nay obsession—with the paranormal.  To be sure, I covered the subject in depth in The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln and I have blogged on some aspects of it before.  However, the subject is worth more exploring, since mainstream historians have largely ignored the subject or dismiss it by emphasizing that our 16th President was merely humoring his “neurotic” wife (they really mean bitchy, but don’t wish to sound sexist) and they let it go at that.  Mary Todd Lincoln had her faults, to be sure; and after the death of their son Willie she was indeed very much drawn to Spiritualism, both as an emotional outlet and as a method to get in touch, not only with Willie, but her dead brother, a Confederate officer killed in combat.

But in truth, in my research for The Paranormal Presidency, I uncovered evidence pointing to Lincoln’s involvement with psychics—or at least persons posing as psychics—well before Willie’s death and which did not involve his wife.

The evidence for Lincoln’s early involvement with psychics is admittedly sketchy.  The trail is difficult to follow in this and other controversial aspects of Lincoln, mainly because his sole surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, did such a good job at suppressing all evidence after the war that did not portray his father as a living saint.  We know for a fact that for several days Robert Lincoln running burned reams of papers relating to his father’s life and politics.  So, when you read about Honest Abe, bear in mind that as voluminous as the Lincoln Papers may seem, they are in fact heavily “scrubbed.”

But not everything went up in flames.  There was eyewitness testimony, for one thing, although here again, historians cast aspersions on the witnesses, dismissing them as liars and cranks.  One witness in particular, testifies to Abraham Lincoln consulting at least one psychic which had anything to do with Mary and preceded the death of their son Willie.

After the war a gentleman named Colonel Simon P. Kase came forward to testify that he had been instrumental in securing a meeting between the President and a “writing medium” by the name of “Mr. Conkling.”  He recounts visiting Washington on business (he was a government contractor) and out of curiosity visiting his old apartments only to encounter the mysterious Mr. Conkling.  Being already a believer in Spiritualism, this Conkling prevailed upon him to deliver a letter to Lincoln and to set up a meeting between him and the President.  Colonel Kase obliged, but for whatever reason, Conkling stayed in another room of the White House during Kase’s interview with the President.

The story is a curious one and Colonel Kase conflated this encounter with a full séance attended by the President sometime later, attended by the young medium Nettie Colbun.  In seeking to verify Kase’s accounts, it is not helpful that he related these encounters with the President a number of years later, when the good gentlemen was apparently up in years and his memory less than perfect.

Fortunately, we have contemporary documentation to support Colonel Kase’s narrative.  Deep within the Library of Conress’s Lincoln Papers is preserved the missive from Conkling which he delivered to Lincoln.  Kase recalled it happening sometime in 1862; in fact the letter is date December 28, 1861 and the medium’s name was H. B. Conklin.  His return address was actually New York City, not Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C.

Conklin’s missive to Lincoln was actually just a cover letter for another gentleman’s letter, a man named Edward Baker.  Baker was a person well known to Lincoln, having been a good friend of the President’s.  The reason Baker was unable to deliver the letter in person is that he had been killed at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, months before and he had written it from the grave!

The Library of Congress not only has transcribed this correspondence into a readable printed text, it has also provided access photostats of the original documents.  Curiously, there are some eight pages to the original, although the printed transcription is much shorter.  Most of the original papers seemed to be filled with meaningless scribbling and when I first examined it I was at a loss to make sense of it.  Then I realized: Conklin was a “writing medium” and what those pages were what we would call today “automatic writing.”

Beyond Kase’s eyewitness account, there is other evidence of Lincoln’s encounters with H. B. Conklin.  Apparently Lincoln met Conklin even before he became President; an article published in March of 1861 and entitled “The President is a Spiritualist,” relates how Conklin met him a year before and delivered another message from a dead acquaintance.

Whether H. B. Conklin was the real deal or simply a clever charlatan is irrelevant.  The fact remains that there is solid evidence that Lincoln was frequenting psychics and mediums without Mary and doing so well before their son’s death.  What Lincoln’s motives may have to do is open to debate: the fact that he did so is not.  For more on the subject, see Chapter 14 of The Paranormal Presidency.

The Faeries of Blackheath Wood

I normally don’t do much reposting from other blogs, but this short film about dark fays is so good it is worth wider appreciation.

I’m afraid Tolkien’s love of the Fair Folk has spread the false belief that all faeries are innately good, angelic even.

This short reminds us that the Fairy Realm is called the Perilous Realm for good reason:  The Faeries of Blackheath Wood.

original posting:

The Faeries of Blackheath Wood

The Faeries of Blackheath Woods; don't go alone!

The Faeries of Blackheath Woods; don’t go alone!

Aliens, Lincoln and Vampires, Oh My!

Just did an interview with Prometheus Productions last week, the folks who produce Ancient Aliens (you know the show with the bad hair guy) and while I am not exactly an expert on UFO’s I did ramble on a bit about Abraham Lincoln and his beliefs in the paranormal.

In my ugly mug did not crack the camera lens they should be taking at least some of the interview for one or another of their shows on the History Channel–it remains to be seen.  While I’m not quite sure whether ancient aliens landed on earth, I have weighed in on more recent historic sightings in both Strange Tales of the Dark & Bloody Ground and in Dixie Spirits.

More about Abraham Lincoln when the show airs, but just for the record, Lincoln did not hunt vampires, although he did consult a Voodoo Priestess or two, attend séances and have several prophetic dreams.  Oh yes, and he did observe the skies for omens, so maybe he was in contact with alien life forms–maybe.

Modern alien somewhat upset with the Bad Hair Guy.

Modern alien somewhat upset with the Bad Hair Guy.

 

Memphis, the Mothership and other weirdness

via turbosquid

Artist’s conception of a mothership. Did one hover over Memphis, Tennessee in 1904?

December 2, 1904, dawned clear and cold over the Bluff City. People in the city were going about their normal Friday morning activities, rich and poor, black and white.

Then, around nine a.m., something strange happened. Without warning the sun was blotted out of the sky. In the space of a minute or so, the day went from a bright, sunlight autumn morn to utter and complete darkness. Work came to a crashing halt; laborers and others scramble to turn on gas lamps, oil lamps or incandescent bulbs. It soon became apparent that this was no ordinary event.

The “inky darkness” was sudden and complete; there had been no warning, no approaching storm. The schools, which relied on daylight for illumination, were plunged into darkness, throngs of children terrified. Adults too were scared out of their wits, both at home and at work. One longshoreman hugged a telegraph pole for dear life, too frightened to let go.

All in all, the eerie darkness lasted more than half an hour, then disappeared as quickly as it had begun. The mysterious blackout was soon followed by a real storm, which was itself awful in its ferocity. For days the people of Memphis, Tennessee, were bothered and bewildered by what had happened.

A sudden "inky blackness" descends on Memphis without warning.

A sudden “inky blackness” descends on Memphis without warning.

Of course, there were the usual naysayers who tried to dismiss it as just a dark storm cloud passing over. But those who experienced knew that was a lie. The storm came after the blackness, not before or during it. It was an eclipse then; unexpected but nothing more? Well, neither the sun nor moon make special side trips for eclipses; no solar eclipse was scheduled for that day in that place.

Having myself experienced a number of total eclipses in my lifetime, from the written accounts it is clear that it couldn’t have been a natural eclipse. For one thing, the sky gradually gets darker, like a cloudy day, before the total eclipse and even then the blackness only lasts few minutes at most. This was different: it was sudden, it was total and it lasted a long time. The object blotting out the sun had to have been in stationary orbit between the earth and sun to create such an effect. No natural celestial body could have done that.

Though no one at the time voiced the opinion, only a UFO of massive size and capable of maintaining a stationary orbit above the city could have done that: in effect, a “mothership.”

Now this event is but one of the many strange things that has been know to happen in Memphis. Aside from a surfeit of haunted houses and similar apparitions, there was the case on January, 15, 1877, when it rained snakes on the city. They were not little hatchlings either: the snakes were all dark brown—thousands and thousands of them—a foot to a foot and a half in length.

via Pinterest

In January, 1877 thousands of snakes rained down on Memphis, one of the weirdest Fortean Falls on record.

Again scientists tried to explain away the unexplainable: they had been picked up by a “hurricane” and somehow deposited by the tens of thousands on the city. The fact that hurricanes don’t occur in January, that Memphis, Tennessee is too far inland for a hurricane to reach or the fact that snakes, being cold-blooded animals, would be hibernating securely underground in January did not seem to phase the professional debunkers then, any more than it does now.

For more true accounts of high strangeness in the Mid-South, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.

“Bitter” Bierce

Christopher Coleman:

Here is a brief piece on Bierce from the Emerging Civil War blog. It is a nice summary, although a whole book could be written of Bierce’s war career–and has. The only thing I would add at this point is that Bierce rejoined the army in time for the Autumn Campaign and that there are some discrepancies regarding his actual date of separation from the service.

Originally posted on Emerging Civil War:

Bierce, AmbroseAmong the men missing from the roles of the Army of the Cumberland after the Kennesaw Line was twenty-two-year-old Lt. Ambrose Bierce. Bierce is famous for his dark and disturbing writings, the most famous of which, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, has been adapted to film numerous times—most notably by the Twilight Zone during the Rod Sterling era. Bierce’s writings are still impactful today, influencing the writings of such noted authors as Stephen King. Bierce’s writings were influenced by the horrors he witnessed at places such as Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Pickett’s Mill in the Atlanta Campaign.

Bierce, who served on the staff of General William B. Hazen—whom he called “The Best Hated Man in the Army”—really lost his faith in humanity during these engagements.

View original 176 more words

Tall Betsy, Bradley County’s Lady in Black

Tall Betsy, Cleveland, Tennessee's resident spook, comes on Halloween to deliver tricks and treats.

Tall Betsy, Cleveland, Tennessee’s resident spook, comes on Halloween to deliver tricks and treats.

In the pages of Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, I have previously chronicled some high strangeness originating from the area near Cleveland, Tennessee, as well as a rather scary apparition from East Tennessee referred to as The Lady in Black.  In Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, I delved even more deeply into the supernatural stirrings of the Mid-South.  Even with the ghost stories and mysteries which I did not chronicle in those books, I had assumed I had researched just about every paranormal phenomenon and tale there was to known about this region; my file cabinets are bulging with accounts and my computer files contain even more.  Well, I was wrong, for until just recently, I had never heard of Bradley County’s favorite apparition, Tall Betsy.

While most folks outside of Cleveland have never heard about Tall Betsy, anyone who grew up in or around the East Tennessee city can give you an earful about this unusual hobgoblin.  An online search of the usual ghost-hunter websites and directories will generally give you a blank; but that is not to say she is not real–or as real as any immaterial being can be.

I stumbled across Tall Betsy through one of my son’s friends who grew up in Cleveland.  My son Bubba knows just about everyone in Sumner County and his friend, who now hails from here, spent most of his boyhood in Bradley County.  So, knowing my interest in all things weird and wonderful relating to the South, Bubba’s friend regaled me with what he knew of Tall Betsy.  The game afoot, I dug deeper and came up with more on this mysterious apparition and what passes for the facts about her—admittedly not much.

Unlike TV ghost hunters, who go armed with all sorts of high tech gear and flashlights glued to their faces and generally end up scaring themselves, I resort to low tech methods to research ghost stories: word of mouth, hearsay, old newspaper clippings, an occasional eyewitness and the like.  No, it’s not scientific–but then neither are those TV “experts” who charge a large hunk of chump change for their expertise these days.

In her present incarnation, Tall Betsy dates back to 1980, when a local Cleveland Tennessee businessman and entrepreneur, Allan Jones, decided to get up on stilts, don a long black gown and a witches’ fright mask and hand out candy to neighborhood kids.  At first his fright costume worked too well; the local children avoided his home on Halloween like the plague.  Bit by bit, however, the kids got used to the spooky seven and half foot crone and the appearance of Tall Betsy became an annual tradition until it grew into a day long block party with thousands attending.  In recent years the celebration has also included TV celebrities and rock stars such as Little Richard.

Whether the block party got a little too big or whether Squire Jones simply got weary of standing on stilts all day, Tall Betsy disappeared from the Cleveland celebration for several years.  By all accounts she is back on the scene, handing out candy as before and a documentary has even been made about her legend.  So Cleveland, Tennessee is definitely a fun place to be on Halloween.

Although Allan Jones can certainly be credited with reviving the tradition regarding Tall Betsy, contrary to what professional debunkers may claim, he by no means originated the legend.

Jones actually learned the story of Tall Betsy from his mother, Giney Jones, who in turn had heard it as a girl from her mother, Marie Slaughter. So the tale of Tall Betsy, also known as Black Betsy or simply The Lady in Black, goes back to at least the 1920’s and 30’s and the story seems to be a genuine local tradition.

In her original incarnation, Tall Betsy was a real apparition—or at least “told as true”—who was of uncommon height (seven and half feet tall) who had a persimmon tree for a cane and who wandered the streets of Cleveland late at night.  Her grave is located in Fort Hill Cemetery, where she seems to have originally been seen and all sorts of dark tales were told about her to young children.  She was alleged to kidnap children out too late on Halloween and carry them off to her mausoleum, where she would cook and eat them and gnaw on their bones.

At this point in time it’s impossible to say how the story of Tall Betsy originated.  Whether there was indeed a cemetery ghost who was a Lady in Black (Kingston, Tennessee has one too) which was sighted on dark and gloomy nights, or whether she was just some eccentric old crone of uncommon height whose nocturnal wanderings became the subject of unkind gossip, is not known.  Tall Betsy defies easy explanations; but as far as the folk of Cleveland, Tennessee are concerned, she is a reality—at least once a year.

For further uncanny tales of ghosts, ghouls and witches, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, and, of course, Dixie Spirits.

The Day the Devil Came Down to Arkansas

Call his name and the Devil will appear they say.  One day two Arkansas boys found that out.

Call his name and the Devil will appear they say. One day two Arkansas boys found that out.

Many’s the man who they say has met the devil and won, but I don’t know of anyone who’ll look you straight in the face and say they did.  Daniel Webster supposedly did; Andrew Jackson confronted the Bell Witch, but even he didn’t claim to have bested the hag.  Let me add to the list names you never heard of before, and probably never will again: John Chesselden and James Arkins.

They were just two country boys, living out beyond the bounds of civilized society, in what is today Arkansas but back in 1784 wasn’t even considered part of the U.S.  One bright May day they left the frontier settlement of Kenfry in the northeast part of the territory to visit a friend in an outlying hamlet.

The distance as the crow flies was about twenty-five miles, but they had to pass through a forest called Varnum’s Wood, which had a reputation for being haunted.  Why, only a few days before, one of the boys said, old Isaac King had encountered the Devil himself and barely escaped with his life.  His friend scoffed at the tale and then in a prideful boast declared he was not scared of any demon and defied Old Scratch to appear.

In 1784, two pioneers confronted a headless Devil in Arkansas.  They were lucky not to lose their own heads that day.

In 1784, two pioneers confronted a headless Devil in Arkansas. They were lucky not to lose their own heads that day.

Pride goeth before the fall, they say, and not longer after his prideful boast, the two lads encountered a puff of black smoke and a strange beast which soon congealed into something resembling a human—only a human without a head and hovering eight feet above the ground. Even without a head, however, the Demon talked up a storm, tempting the two boys with thrones and dominions beyond the ken of mortal men.

Of all that befell the lads that day, I haven’t room here to say; and, anyway, I gave a complete account of it in Chapter 6 of Dixie Spirits. That and other true tales that defy logic and reason unfold as best as can be told by this humble scribe.  Suffice it to say that the two young men only just escaped being dragged to Hell.  When they made it to safety, few would believe their tale, until they showed the local folk where the demon had moved a giant boulder; a boulder so big a dozen men couldn’t move it if they tried.

Happy Halloween from Dixie.

Happy Halloween from Dixie.

So if you wander in a haunted wood during the dark of the moon, I advise you to not tempt the Devil, else Old Nick takes you up on your offer.  And if all I say is not the gospel truth, well, then: God Bless the Devil!