In the aftermath of the civil war, when 750,000 American lives were lost, there were many families across the country desperate to connect with the Great Beyond. There was a boom of “spiritualism”, or the idea that one can communicate with the dead, especially popular with the upper class. Mary Todd Lincoln had lost her mother, three of her children, and her husband, killed in front of her. But it was her son Willie’s death in 1862 that seemed to take the deepest toll on her. He was eleven when he died from typhoid fever, which sent both his parents into a deep despair and time of isolation and mourning. The demands of the civil war eventually drew out the President, who tied a black ribbon around his hat in remembrance of his son, which remained there until his own untimely demise.
Mrs. Lincoln began to visit with a group of mediums called the Lauries in order to try and reach him. She even hosted seances in the Red Room of the White House, with President Lincoln in attendance for several of them. She seemed to take deep comfort in them, writing to a relative, “Willie Lives. He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of the bed with the same sweet adorable smile that he always has had…. You cannot dream of the comfort this gives me”. Mrs. Lincoln even visited a spiritual photographer who took a photo that supposedly showed the ghostly silhouette of the late president standing over her. Even today, there are rumors that the ghost of Willie, his brother Eddie, and their father still haunt the White House today.