I just became aware of a curious photograph in the collection of the Allen County Museum in Fort Wayne IN. I have added it to my post “150th Anniversary,” even though it is likely a fake. Yet it is poignant testimony of how, following the death of a spouse, the survivor will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to never let go.
The photograph is a portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln (1818—1882), the widow of our 16th president, taken a few years after his assassination by William H. Mumler (1832–1884), who was known as a ‘spirit photographer’ who worked in New York and Boston. This is considered to be one of his most famous photographs because it purports to show the “ghost” of the President.
P.T. Barnum claimed he hired Abraham Bogardus to fabricate this photo showing the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. This picture was then tendered in evidence at Mumler’s trial for fraud to show how easy it was to forge spirit photographs. But Mumler was acquitted.
Paranormal researcher Melvyn Willin, in his book Ghosts Caught on Film, claims that the photo was taken around 1869, and that Mumler did not know that his sitter was Lincoln’s widow, instead believing her to be a “Mrs Tundall.” Willin goes on to say that Mumler did not discover who she was until after the photo was developed.
The College of Psychic Studies, referencing notes belonging to William Stainton Moses (who appeared in photographs by other spirit photographers), claims that the photo was taken in the early 1870s, that Mrs. Lincoln assumed the name of “Mrs. Lindall,” and that she had to be encouraged by Mumler’s wife (a medium) to identify the deceased President, her late husband, in the photo.
Although the image has been dismissed as a fraudulent double exposure, it has been widely circulated.
The death of Mrs. Lincoln’s son Tad in July 1871, following the death of two of her other sons and her husband, brought on an overpowering grief and depression. Her surviving son, Robert Lincoln, a rising young Chicago lawyer, was alarmed at his mother’s increasingly erratic behavior and, after she nearly jumped out of a window to escape a non-existent fire, determined that she should be institutionalized. He committed her to a private asylum. Mrs. Lincoln eventually won her freedom and lived in Springfield IL with her sister Elizabeth, but she was so estranged from her son Robert that they did not reconcile until shortly before her death.
Mrs. Lincoln spent her final years in declining health but traveled and resided in Europe. She suffered from severe cataracts that reduced her eyesight; this condition may have contributed to her increasing susceptibility to falls. In 1879, she suffered spinal cord injuries in a fall from a stepladder, and later returned to Springfield. In 1882 she collapsed at her sister’s home and lapsed into a coma. She died at age 63.
Groove of the Day
86° and Clear