Abraham Lincoln, the Paranormal President?

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You may be shocked to discover that, in addition to having led the effort to save the Union and free the slaves, Abraham Lincoln apparently had another, less-known but equally important role as the American equivalent of Abraham Van Helsing, the fictional stalker of vampires in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. What’s that, you say? Ludicrous? Well, how else do you explain the eerie symmetry of our Lincoln, Van Helsing and the author himself all sharing the same unusual first name? Okay, we’re just kidding. Lincoln’s secret struggle against the undead is actually just the premise of Seth Graheme Smith’s new satirical novel, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which follows up his previous best-selling mashup of Jane Austen and George Romero, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Smith’s choice of Lincoln as his protagonist is intriguing, however, because paranormal enthusiasts have long been fascinated with what they suspect were the 16th President’s psi powers, and with the reports of ghostly Lincoln apparitions that have surfaced periodically in the 145 years since his assassination. Here’s a 1999 article by the Skeptical Inquirer’s Joe Nickell on Lincoln’s supposed paranormal side.

Some, for example, believe that Lincoln had flashes of precognition. The most famous incident — described in Ward Hill Lamon’s Recollections of Abraham Lincoln, 1847-1865 was one in which Lincoln, while lying on his bed in Springfield, IL just after being elected, looked in a mirror and saw a double image of himself.

There was Abraham Lincoln’s face reflecting the full glow of health and hopeful life; and in the same mirror, at the same moment of time, was the face of Abraham Lincoln showing a ghostly paleness. On trying the experiment at other times, as confirmatory tests, the illusion reappeared, and then vanished as before.

According to Lamon, Lincoln took the illusion as a sign that he would die before the close of his second term. Nickels, however, offers a non-paranormal explanation.

The nature of this optical illusion can be deduced from the circumstances. The double image was of Lincoln’s face only, could be seen in a particular mirror but not others, and vanished and reappeared with respect to a certain vantage point. Taken together, these details are corroborative evidence that the mirror was the cause. An ordinary mirror can produce a slight double-image effect due to light reflecting off the front of the glass as well as off the silvering on the back. In modern mirrors this is usually not noticeable, and the shift in the image is slight in any event. But in the case of old mirrors, whose glass plates “were generally imperfect” (Cescinsky 1931), a distinct double image might be produced, like that shown in Figure 1. (Unfortunately, the actual mirror-topped bureau Lincoln described is no longer to be found at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, much of the furniture having been dispersed in earlier years.

It’s more difficult to explain, however, a conversation that Lamon recounts with Lincoln and the First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, shortly before the assassination. Lincoln shocked them by describing his own “supernatural visitations, dreams, visions, etc.” In particular, he described a dream in which he awoke to discover the sounds of mourning in the White House.

There was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I asked one of the soldiers. ‘The President,’ was his answer. ‘He was killed by an assassin!

There’s also the creepy matter of all the people over the years who’ve claimed to see apparitions of Old Abe in the Lincoln bedroom, ranging from Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to Maureen Reagan, daughter of President Ronald Reagan. For more details, check out Dennis William Hauck’s Haunted places: the national directory.


  1. Isabelle Jenkins
    April 14, 2010, 9:35 pm

    Gotta love Lincoln!

  2. CKC
    Cumberland Valley
    August 4, 2014, 11:11 am

    For a more recent account of Lincoln and the Paranormal, one based on primary sources, see The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, (Schiffer, 2013): http://www.schifferbooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_book_info&cPath=958_563_580&products_id=4960