Presidents and the Paranormal: Lincoln

A fake Lincoln ghost photo by William Mumler
A fake Lincoln ghost photo by William Mumler. William Mumler

The paranormal has even surrounded the highest office in the U.S. - the presidency, including Lincoln who saw visions of his own death, and whose ghost has been seen in the White House.


The ghost of Abraham Lincoln is probably the most well-known paranormal phenomenon related to a U.S. president. Assassinated in 1865, Lincoln lives on in the White House, according to a variety of witnesses who claim to have heard and even seen the 16th president at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:

  • Lincoln's ghost seems to have been most active during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, perhaps because they were both in power at times of great war for the United States. During their 13-year occupancy of the White House, the Roosevelts used the former Lincoln bedroom as a study for Eleanor, the first lady. Although she never claimed to have seen Lincoln's spirit, Eleanor spoke of the sense of someone watching her as she worked in the room. She believed Lincoln was there with her.
  • A young clerk in the Roosevelt White House claimed to have actually seen the ghost of Lincoln sitting on a bed and pulling off his boots.
  • While spending a night at the White House during the Roosevelt presidency, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was awakened by a knock on the bedroom door. Answering it, she was confronted with the ghost of Abe Lincoln staring at her from the hallway.
  • Ever the gentleman, it seems, Lincoln knocked often. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman all reported hearing unexplained rappings on their bedroom doors. What made them think it was Lincoln is unknown.
  • It's well known how Lincoln anguished over the horrors of the Civil War. His spirit may have continued worrying long after his death. Calvin Coolidge's wife reported seeing on several occasions the ghost of Lincoln standing with his hands clasped behind his back, at a window in the Oval Office, staring out in deep contemplation toward the bloody battlefields across the Pototmac.
  • During one of Winston Churchill's visits to the United States during WW2, he spent the night in the White House. Churchill loved to retire late, take a long, hot bath while drinking a Scotch, and smoke a cigar and relax. On this occasion, he climbed out of the bath and naked, but for his cigar, walked into the adjoining bedroom. He was startled to see Abraham Lincoln standing by the fireplace in the room, leaning on the mantle. Churchill, always quick on the uptake, blinked and said "Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage." Lincoln smiled softly and disappeared.

There haven't been any sightings of Lincoln since the Truman administration because, some believe, of the many renovations to the presidential home. Lincoln's ghost was not confined to the White House however. His spirit is said to have been seen walking near his grave site in Springfield, Illinois.

Some also claim to have seen his ghostly funeral train many years after it carried his body back to Springfield. There are two trains, according to some witnesses, seen on the anniversary of that journey. The first train pulls a line of black-draped cars, and the second pulls just one flatbed car on which is the slain president's casket.


That Lincoln had a precognitive dream about his own untimely death is well documented. He related the dream to his close friend, Ward Hill Lamon:

About ten days ago, I retired very late. 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 met me as I passed alone. I was puzzled and alarmed. Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room. 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 or people, some 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."

Next page: The Lincoln-Kennedy connection


Lincoln had another premonition of his fate shortly after his election in 1860. He received the news of his victory by telegraph and celebrated at home with some friends. Exhausted from the day's events, he fell asleep on the sofa.

When he awoke in the morning, he happened to glance in a bureau mirror and was startled to see a double image of himself reflected. He related the strange event to Harper's Magazine:

Looking in that glass, I saw myself reflected, nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed, had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished.

On lying down again, I saw it a second time -- plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler, say five shades, than the other. I got up and the thing melted away, and I went off and, in the excitement of the hour, forgot all about it -- nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang, as though something uncomfortable had happened.

When Lincoln told his wife Mary of the phenomenon, her interpretation was prescient: "She thought it was 'a sign,'" Lincoln said, "that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term."


Besides being beloved (and despised) presidents who were both assassinated, the presidencies of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy share a number of other astounding parallels and coincidences:

  • Lincoln was elected on November 6, 1860; Kennedy was elected on November 8, 1960.
  • Both had previously been members of Congress. Lincoln was first elected to Congress in 1846; Kennedy in 1946.
  • After their assassinations, both men were succeeded by Southerners named Johnson - and both Johnsons were born 100 years apart: Andrew Johnson in 1808; Lyndon Johnson in 1908.
  • Both men were killed on a Friday by shots to the head as their wives sat beside them.
  • John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in a theatre and fled to barn; Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy's accused killer, shot from a schoolbook warehouse and then fled to a movie theatre. Both assassins were killed before they could be brought to trial.
  • Both assassinations were the result of conspiracies (even though the conspiracy surrounding Kennedy's death is still disputed by some).
  • Lincoln was shot inside Ford's Theater; Kennedy was killed in a Lincoln limousine, made by the Ford Motor Company.
  • Just as Lincoln foresaw his own death, Kennedy seemed to have a premonition of his death as well. Just a few hours before he was murdered in Dallas, John Kennedy told Jackie and Ken O'Donnell, his personal adviser: "If somebody wants to shoot me from a window with a rifle, nobody can stop it, so why worry about it."
  • Kennedy also received other psychic warnings about his death. Psychic Jeanne Dixon advised the president that she foresaw his assassination as he traveled through the South. He also received a warning from his secretary that his trip to Dallas could have tragic consequences and urged him not to go. Her name was Evelyn Lincoln.

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