Abraham Lincoln stories are notoriously hard to verify; many of the famous stories about him weren’t told until years after his death, and even a lot of first-hand accounts are pretty shaky. The same is true of ghost stories in general, so trying to find sources that related to both Lincoln AND ghosts was quite a challenge. But looking for evidence to back up a story that Lincoln once rode a flying piano at a séance is a pretty nifty way to spend one’s working life.
The story goes like this: according to a book published years after Lincoln’s death, Mary Lincoln went to a séance at a home in Washington, and Abe came along on a whim. During the séance, a medium made the piano float, and Lincoln and two other men hopped on it and bounced to the music as the levitated. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals repeats the story as fact, but only cites the book from years later as a source. And that book is known to be a bit unreliable. Indeed, though we know Mary was an enthusiastic séance-goer, no reliable source fro a disinterested party had ever been found to prove that Mr. Lincoln ever accompanied her, let alone rode on a flying piano.
However, in digging through Spiritualist newsletters fro the 1890s, when the book was first published, I found a small article in which the editor took exception to the refutations of the book, and specifically called out an interview General Dan Sickles had given to some paper called Miner’s Journal. It took some doing to find a library that had that on microfilm, but the case turned out to be solid: in an issue of that tiny paper, General Dan Sickles, who was not a Spiritualist himself, confirmed that he’d seen Lincoln attending a séance at the White House—and that there’d even been a bouncing piano involved.
It amazed me that there was still anything about Lincoln that hadn’t been examined in detail before, so I was amazed at what I found. New accounts of séance, earlier versions of some stories of Lincoln predicting his death than had previously been spoken of, and stories about Lincoln using hats as chamber pots that aren’t nearly famous enough. I’m happy to help!
Our thanks to Adam for his guest post! For more from Adam Selzer, his books, and his articles, visit his author page.