Thursday, December 24, 2015

Ghosts of Lincoln: Discovering His Paranormal Legacy


Rating: 4 Stars


I received this as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I first began this one, I was wholly unimpressed. While I am firm believer in the paranormal, I find the idea of mediums and seances to be nonsense. I know the experiences I have had for myself, and given how people love to make money, anyone really can tell you they are talking to your dead relative or friend or pet and just be looking to make a buck. So, when the author was writing specifically about this aspect of the paranormal and how it fit into the lives of President Lincoln and his wife, I was ready to toss it aside. I am glad that I didn't, because what I was really looking for was soon to come - the history an ghost stories of Lincoln himself, The unfortunate part in all that of course was that he first had to be assassinated to get to those stories.

The book covers many aspects of the paranormal and how it was part of the lives of both Abe and Mary. It seems that although this was something that Mary was heavily involved in, particularly after their son's death, it does not seem like it was something that Abe was opposed to. Though, I have to be very honest, the seances and such were very boring to me. I stopped counting how many times the author mentioned this weird flying piano story that I had never even heard until this book, and it was highly annoying for lack of a better word. It is all just so preposterous to me - and so many of these sessions were proven to be fraudulent. It would be easy to rig up the piano to make it move. And an we really imagine Lincoln ever riding a flying piano? I highly doubt it. I skimmed a lot of this section because it was not what I was reading the book for. I understand the reason for its inclusion, as the author was addressing all paranormal aspects relating to Lincoln (just wait until the time traveler nonsense comes up toward the end!) but it was still not interesting to me. The spiritualist movement just doesn't hold much weight with me, though others might find it more interesting.

The book picked up with an interesting chapter about Lincoln's funeral train and the places you can supposedly observe it still rolling down the tracks. But just as suddenly as the train appeared, it was gone again and we are brought back to more seance stuff again, this time with people who are claiming to have contacted Lincoln and Booth after their deaths. However, this time the section devoted to seances was much shorter and we are soon introduced to those who made their livings as spirit photographers. I had never heard of this until reading this book so I Googled it of course and found some interesting information, especially about William Mumler, the spirit photographer who took the famous photo of Mary that supposedly shows Abe standing behind her with his hands on her shoulders. It is an intriguing idea.

I know what you might be thinking at this point: "Sarah, how can you say seances and mediums are nonsense, yet give any credence then to these spirit photographers who could easily manipulate film by double-exposing it, even in its primitive stages in the late 1800s?!" That's what I thought at first too, until the author brought up this interesting point:

"Photographs that appear to show a spirit are not difficult to fake, but photographs that appear to show a very specific one, who many never have been photographed in life, and who Mumler had never seen, and had no photos of himself, are another matter altogether" ( at 73%).

The story given here is that Mary traveled incognito to see Mumler and kept her face covered = even giving an assumed name. it was supposedly not until the moment before the photo was taken that she removed the veil she had been wearing. Again, it is at least intriguing to think about.

From here we are back to the ghost story aspect of the book, beyond just the ghost train. The author gives us a slew of places Lincoln has been sighted in, including the random little town in Iowa of Mount Pleasant. At this point I also found out that Robert Lincoln had his mother committed to an asylum for a year. Those surrounding Lincoln immediately after he had been shot (Mary, Rathbone, Clara) all had sad endings to their lives. The final section of ghost sightings speaks directly about those at the White House. I only wish there were more documented sightings from earlier.

I don't want to give much attention to the crazy man who thinks he is a time traveler and appears as a child in the foreground of the only known photos of Lincoln at Gettysburg, because it is such a joke, but I appreciate this line:

"After spending enough time reading different sources and footnotes of Lincoln lore, the idea that we can chalk things up to time travelers and alternate realities starts to seem more and more appealing" (at 84%).

That being said, I was impressed by the research the author has done into the life and death of Lincoln and how this spectrum of the paranormal touched his life. One does not always find this level of research in relation to paranormal books, or the quality of writing. I have read some paranormal books in dire need of a good editor but luckily this is not one of them.

Quote that really stuck with me:

"It is fair to say that Lincoln haunts the United States, whether as an actual ghost, as several different ghosts, or as just a strange, unknowable presence in our collective mind and memory. His life and work changed nearly every aspect of the nation, and his death changed more of them still" (at 4%).

Whether you are even interested in only the paranormal or only the Lincoln aspect, definitely recommended.

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