Abraham Lincoln and Ancient Aliens

President Lincoln was one of the many prominent men of his day who attended séances; he also believed in prophecy and other psychic phenomena
President Lincoln was one of the many prominent men of his day who attended séances; he also believed in prophecy and other psychic phenomena

I normally don’t write about UFO’s and Alien sightings, restricting my researches to paranormal phenomena, but I have delved into the subject on occasion as it relates to the South. In Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, for example, I investigated the UFO sightings over the Tennessee Valley in the early 1900’s and a “dark day” in Memphis, while in Dixie Spirits I also chronicled a very credible close encounter in West Virginia.

Then there are those strange events which may not be supernatural but which certainly defy all attempts at rational explanation, such as rains of blood and gore, aerial showers of snakes and other land going animals, as well as the Mothman enigma, which itself seems to transcend traditional categories. So while I have an abiding interest in UFO’s and the possibility of Aliens visiting our planet, I generally have left those investigations to those with the resources to properly probe them.

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Artist’s conception of a mothership. Did one such ship hover over Memphis, Tennessee in 1904? See Chapter 37 of Strange Tales of the Dark & Bloody Ground.

That is why, when I was contacted by the folks at the Ancient Aliens series on The History Channel to come on their show and discuss my researches on Abraham Lincoln and the paranormal as published in The Paranormal Presidency, I was a bit bewildered how I might fit into their show’s format. Nevertheless, last summer I did an interview with the folks at Ancient Aliens and discussed quite a bit about Lincoln’s beliefs in the paranormal and allied subjects, as well as also discussing Ambrose Bierce, whose Civil War career I have researched extensively, the results of which should be published later this year or early next. Bierce, although known as a cynic, in fact was fascinated by the bizarre, the unexplained and the unusual—in other words, a man after my own heart. As honored as I was to be on their show, however, I wondered how my own expertise would fit into their show’s concept. Well, the wait is over; earlier this month the History Channel aired an episode entitled “Aliens and the Civil War.”

Ambrose Bierce as he looked during the Civil War.  Was his war wound a source of his interests in the bizarre and unexplained?  The Ancient Aliens show thinks so.
Ambrose Bierce as he looked during the Civil War. Was his war wound a source of his interests in the bizarre and unexplained? The Ancient Aliens show thinks so.

First off, I must say they did an excellent job of dovetailing what I had to say about Lincoln with other material relating to Alien contact and the Civil War. As is usual for this show, much of what they have to say is highly speculative; nevertheless, I thought much of what they argued was interesting, making connections between events and phenomena which I had not previously thought related to one another.

Besides the Lincoln segment that I was on, they also discussed some other unusual phenomena which I have previously written about in Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, although my take on the incidents was different. There was, for example, the vision of Washington at Valley Forge and his later appearance at the Battle of Gettysburg, which I discussed in the Chapter “Behold a Pale Rider”—although their account of Washington’s visitation at Gettysburg differs from my research.

While attending one seance Lincoln was given a "ride" on a piano by, a "physical" medium.
While attending one seance Lincoln was given a “ride” on a piano by, a “physical” medium.

The part of The Paranormal Presidency which they chose to excerpt from my longer interview revolved about Lincoln’s involvement with Spiritualism, in particular with a young psychic named Nettie Colburn—better known under her married name, Nettie Colburn Maynard.

Although mainstream historians frequently label Nettie as a “charlatan,” my extensive research in the archives and other primary sources proves otherwise.  Similarly, some of the claims of other spiritualists about Lincoln’s involvement with his having visited them have been verified, at least in part. How deeply Lincoln was involved in the movement, however, remains subject to debate, but there is no question that he did attend séances and visit psychics, not with, but also without, his wife.

That the “spirits” that contacted Lincoln’s psychics and advised the President could possibly be Alien life forms is something I had never thought of, but Ancient Aliens makes a case for these and other psychic encounters being due to the remote telepathic actions of extraterrestrials. Likewise, their tying Ambrose Bierce’s traumatic head wound into a possible cause of his being psychically informed by Aliens may seem a stretch, but not totally dissimilar to Lincoln’s own near death experience being the possible cause of his belief in premonitions and similar paranormal experiences.

Were Aliens in contact with Lincoln through the medium Nettie Colburn? (artist' s conception of an alien somewhat upset with the Bad Hair Guy).
Were Aliens in contact with Lincoln through the medium Nettie Colburn? (artist’ s conception of an alien somewhat upset with the Bad Hair Guy).

Bear in mind, the Ancient Aliens theories remain highly speculative, but some of the ideas they put forth in the episode “Aliens and the Civil War” are highly original and in some cases I think worthy of further investigation. Traditionally, UFO’s and the belief in Ghosts and the paranormal have been regarded as mutually exclusive. For one thing, most scientists accept the premise that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe; most of them have yet to accept the premise that earth has been visited by them.

Scientists as a group reject the supernatural or anything that resembles it and most reject any aspect of the paranormal as “delusions of the masses.”

However, as theoretical physicists delve deeper into such things as Quantum Mechanics, and posit parallel worlds, alternate realities and similar “fringe science,” some scientists are no longer smugly scoffing at many types of paranormal phenomena, such as remote sensing, precognition, telekinesis and other things hitherto rejected as impossible. The possibility is growing that psychic communication at a distance, or foretelling the future may eventually be found to have a basis in reality, no matter how fantastic they may seem today.

All this reminds me of something that William Herndon, Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, once said about Lincoln’s unorthodox beliefs. He said that Lincoln did not so much believe in the supernatural as in the supra-natural; that what we may regard as defying the laws of nature may just be a part of the natural world which we cannot yet comprehend. Have aliens been in contact with us, by psychic or other means? Who is to say; what today may seem fantastic, may yet prove true.

“Aliens and the Civil War” aired on April 10, 2015 but you can see it on the Ancient Aliens Website: http://www.history.com/shows/ancient-aliens/videos/aliens-and-the-civil-war

My latest book, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife is now in print with The University of Tennessee Press.  Look for it at better bookstores everywhere.

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover
Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife covers the military career of famous American author and curmudgeon.
Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln documents the beliefs and experiences of Abraham Lincoln with the paranormal, including his prophetic dreams, presentiments, encounters with Spiritualism and other uncanny and unusual events.

 

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Halloween Hauntings, Part 7 David Lang & The Difficulty of Crossing a Field

   The Thirteen Days of Halloween, Post 7

DAVID LANG & THE DIFFICULTY OF CROSSING A FIELD

In the 1880's in Sumner County a man disappeared in broad daylight before eyewitnesses.  Since then many have tried to solve the mystery.
In the 1880’s a Sumner County Tennessee man disappeared in broad daylight before eyewitnesses. Since then many have tried to solve the mystery.

In the late nineteenth century, famed American author Ambrose Bierce penned a classic tale of the paranormal, called “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field.”  In it he tells the tall tale of an Alabama farmer, named Orion Williamson, who one day disappeared into thin air while walking across a pasture in the 1840’s.

Although Bierce’s story is a work of fiction, he based it on a story emanating out of Tennessee. It was originally published in the 1880’s by a famed teller of tall tales whose pen name was “Orange Blossom.”

In the original version of the story, the farmer’s name was not Orion Williamson but David Lang.  Orange Blossom—also known as Joe Mulhattan—was renowned as a teller of tall tales.  He was such a good spinner of yarns that “Mulhattan” became synonymous with a tall tale.  In fact, there are those who believe that Joe Mulhattan, or Orange Blossom, was a fictitious creature created by bored newspaper editors to fill space in their papers.

Joe Mulhattan, who wrote under the nome de plume of "Orange Blossom" was a traveling salesman who became famous as a teller of tall tales in the late nineteenth century.
Joe Mulhattan, who wrote under the nome de plume of “Orange Blossom” was a traveling salesman who became famous as a teller of tall tales in the late nineteenth century.

However, legend though he became, Joe Mulhattan was a real person, if larger than life at times.  The story of David Lang’s disappearance, which first appeared in the Cincinnati Inquirer in the early 1880’s, certainly fits in with Mulhattan’s modus operandi.  What made Orange Blossom so good at what he did is that he threw in a grain of truth with his puffery to make his tales plausible.

Ambrose Bierce, who had a certain perverse affection for humbug and hoaxes, took Mulhattan’s tale and crafted his own version of it.  Since that time, the legend of David Lang has been added to by various hands, notably a version of it in Fate Magazine in 1953, by mystery novelist Stuart Palmer.

Ambrose Bierce as he appeared in his later years, when he penned "The Moonlit Road."
Ambrose Bierce as he appeared in his later years, when he penned “The Moonlit Road.”

 

 

But is there any basis to the tale of a farmer disappearing into thin air?  Well, maybe.  Joe Mulhattan was a drummer—traveling salesman—who traveled all across the country.  He would hear a story from locals, then after a few drinks, would spin it into a yarn that even a master of humbug such as P. T. Barnum would be amazed at.

I had read the tale of David Lang as a boy in New York. By a curious coincidence, some years back, when I moved to my present abode, it was only a few miles from Gallatin, Tennessee, where the real David Lang disappeared.  Contrary to what others have written, neither Stuart Palmer nor Ambrose Bierce invented the story; and neither did Joe Mulhattan.

It turns out that while engaged as a traveling salesman, Joe Mulhattan once stayed at a hotel in Gallatin. It so happens he was forced to stay in town a few days longer than planned by torrential rains.  While holed up in the hotel, he heard the story of David Lang from locals. With time on his hands, he penned a letter to the Inquirer and the story has grown in the telling from then till now.

Researchers have tried to track down David Lang and verify the story, alas with no success.  They therefore deemed it a complete hoax; census records prove there was no such person as David Lang or any Lang family in Sumner County, Tennessee in the 1880’s.  True enough; but pouring through the county archives, I fact-checked the tax rolls for that period and found a notation for a man named LONG with the notation in parenthesis (Lang); apparently the Yankee drummer’s ears heard the name pronounced one way, although it was written another.  There were no Lang’s near Gallatin in the 1880’s but several families of Longs.

In the decades since Mulhattan spun his yarn and Ambrose Bierce turned it into a classic tale of the Unknown, the story has not only grown in the telling and re-telling but inspired an opera based on the Uncanny Occurrence in Sumner County, Tennessee.

The Ambrose Bierce story has been turned into a modern opera. The author? Why David Lang of course!
The Ambrose Bierce story has been turned into a modern opera. The author? Why David Lang of course!

So, did a man go walking across a field in rural Sumner County one summer day and disappear into thin air?  Like I said: well, maybe.

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Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. For more haunting tales of the Mid South

Sumner Spirits, Halloween Hauntings, Part 8

Halloween Hauntings, Part 8:

Sumner Spirits

“And all we see and all we seem/Is but a dream within a dream”  EDGAR ALLEN POE

There are those who say that ghost are just a figment of the imagination, or delusion of the masses; that those who see such things are hallucinating or having a “waking dream.” 

Then there are those like Mark Twain, who said “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m still skeered of ’em.”  Perhaps such doubting Thomases may want to take a day trip to Sumner County some October eve, just a few miles north of Downtown Nashville.

Gallatin, Tennessee, the most haunted town square in the state.

Downtown Gallatin, Tennessee, is home to several resident ghosts, all of which are fully documented in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee

Crossing over Mansker’s Creek, the first place you come to is Monthaven–the old Fite place.  It used to sit in splendid isolation on a hill overlooking the creek, where Gallatin Pike and Centerpoint Road meet.  Nowadays it has a cluster of apartments and condos nestled all about it.

During the Civil War, the mansion was the site of a dust-up between General Morgan’s Rebel raiders and some Yankees, and the mansion was used as a temporary field hospital. Moaning in pain and begging for some laudanum or whiskey, wounded soldiers were carried upstairs to a room where a door panel had been converted into an operating table and their limbs were sawed off to the sounds of them shrieking in pain. Several of the soldiers died there and their ghosts still haunt the place.

Monthaven, the old haunted Fite House in Hendersonville
Monthaven,  otherwise known as The Fite House, sits on land which dates back to frontier days. It was also used as a temporary hospital after a cavalry skirmish during the Civil War and some of the casualties still haunt the house.

A little farther up the buffalo trail that is now Route 31E is Hazel Path.  Like Monthaven, this old antebellum home used to sit alone on a hill; now it is the center of an office complex and not lived in–but the dead still reside there and in the adjacent school built over the old pioneer cemetery there.

Edging up several miles more, just before Gallatin proper, is the entrance to what they now call “The Last Plantation.”  At one time, Fairvue Plantation would have put Scarlett O’Hara’s Tara to shame.  It was once the home of the fabled Adelicia Acklen–the original Steel Magnolia.  Opulently wealthy and stunningly beautiful, Adelicia knew how to wrap men around her dainty fingers.  She went through three husband, bore  a number of children and managed to come out of the Civil War richer than when she went in, despite the depredations of the Yankees.  While today a gaggle of upscale homes cluster around Fairvue, the old manse still stands–and is haunted by multiple ghosts,

Fairvue, once the abode of the Famed Adelicia Acklen, is now a wealthy subdivision--but not so exclusive that ghosts don't haunt it still.
Fairvue, once the abode of the Famed Adelicia Acklen, is now a wealthy subdivision–but not so exclusive that ghosts don’t haunt it still.

We would be remiss not to mention the old downtown of Gallatin itself–alleged to be the most haunted town square in Tennessee.  Surrounding the county courthouse are a cluster of old buildings, some dating back to before the war.  Some of them are occupied by law offices, others by retail stores, some are vacant; but all are occupied by ghosts of one description or other.

In this short space I cannot begin to list all the spooky spirits of Sumner: for a more complete accounting of the unaccountable, I refer you to the chapter in my Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee by the same name as this blog, where more details are available.  In the meantime–good haunting!

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South
GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF TENNESSEE
Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee offers all things spooky in the Mid South and covers the favorite haunts of downtown Gallatin plus other Country spooks.