Category Archives: Lincoln and the paranormal

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

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

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 satchels full 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 Congress’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.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi

The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln documents the 16th President’s encounters with the uncanny and his well-founded belief in the Paranormal.

 

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5

Ghosts & Haunts of the Civil War. True accounts of haunted battlefields, CW ghosts and other unexplained phenomena.

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover

From idealistic youth, to disillusioned cynic, Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce as transformed by the Civil War. This book covers this crucial period in American History and its impact on the young man who went to war so eagerly on Spring morning .

Abraham Lincoln and the Supernatural:

Lincoln and the Dancing Piano

While attending a sance at the Laurie’s Lincoln was given a “ride” on their piano by their adopted daughter, a “physical” medium.

In  The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, (Schiffer Press) I document Abraham Lincoln’s beliefs and practices regarding the supernatural. While Lincoln’s fascination with the paranormal has pretty much been known for over 150 years, but before my new book, no one had taken a serious look at the evidence.

To be sure, popular Lincoln biographers like Carl Sandburg and Jim Bishop have occasionally mentioned one incident or another about Lincoln and the paranormal. But these anecdotes were largely thrown in to enliven the narrative and rarely taken seriously.

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

One issue The Paranormal Presidency does not tackle is whether Abraham Lincoln was actually psychic or not. This tome is a work of serious history and, while I document what Lincoln and his contemporaries believed and did, the issue of whether he was psychic per se is not dealt with. That is outside of the realm of history.

What we can say is that from early youth Lincoln had a firm belief in things we would call supernatural. Prophetic dreams, visions, omens and signs, and other uncanny events were all part and parcel of Lincoln’s life and career. But did he actually have psychic gifts?

17 1865 Broadsheet blaming war on Spiritualism via Am Memory

Many blamed the outbreak of Civil War on Lincoln’s and other politicians’ fascination with Spiritualism.

While many of the incidents surrounding Lincoln and the paranormal may easily be dismissed as either superstition or folklore, nevertheless, there is a hard core of well documented incidents where Lincoln seems to have had genuine foreknowledge of coming events—even of his own death.

 

For more on Lincoln and contemporary beliefs about the supernatural, see The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi

The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln documents the spiritual and supernatural beliefs of Abraham Lincoln and his experiences with presentiments, omens, visions and prophetic dreams, as well as his involvement with Spiritualism and how these beliefs influenced the conduct of the war.