There have been several stories about the ghosts of former Presidents of the United States revisiting the White House, with perhaps the most common and popular one being that of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s Ghost, otherwise known as The White House Ghost, is said to have haunted the White House since his death in 1865. Lincoln’s ghost has also been said to haunt many of his former residences in Springfield, Illinois including his former law office.
The White House’s most famous alleged apparition is that of Abraham Lincoln. One of Mumler’s most famous photographs apparently shows Mary Todd Lincoln with the “ghost” of her husband, Abraham Lincoln. Paranormal researcher Melvyn Willin, in his book Ghosts Caught on Film, claims that the photo was taken around 1869 (after Abraham Lincoln’s death), and that Mumler did not know that his sitter was Lincoln, 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 has appeared in photographs by other spirit photographers), claim that the photo was taken in the early 1870s, Lincoln had assumed the name of ‘Mrs. Lindall’ and that Lincoln had to be encouraged by Mumler’s wife (a medium) to identify her husband on the photo. Though the image has been dismissed as being accidental double exposure, it has been widely circulated.
Eleanor Roosevelt never admitted to having seen Lincoln’s ghost, but did say that she felt his presence repeatedly throughout the White House. She also said that the Roosevelt family dog, Fala, would sometimes bark for no reason at what she felt was Lincoln’s ghost.
President Dwight Eisenhower’s press secretary, James Hagerty, and Liz Carpenter, press secretary to First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, both said they felt Lincoln’s presence many times.
The former president’s footsteps are also said to be heard in the hall outside the Lincoln Bedroom.
Lillian Rogers Parks stated in her 1961 autobiography My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House that she had heard them.
Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry S. Truman, said she heard a specter rapping at the door of the Lincoln Bedroom when she stayed there, and believed it was Lincoln.
President Truman himself was once awakened by raps at the door while spending a night in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Several unnamed eyewitnesses have claimed to have seen the shade of Abraham Lincoln actually lying down on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom (which was used as a meeting room at the time of his administration), and while others have seen Lincoln sit on the edge of the bed and put his boots on. The most famous eyewitness to the latter was Mary Eben, Eleanor Roosevelt’s secretary, who saw Lincoln pulling on his boots (after which she ran screaming from the room).
Others have actually seen an apparition of the former president. The first person reported to have actually seen Lincoln’s spirit was First Lady Grace Coolidge, who said she saw the ghost of Lincoln standing at a window in the Yellow Oval Room staring out at the Potomac.
Theodore Roosevelt and Maureen Reagan and her husband have all claimed to have seen a spectral Lincoln in the White House. A number of staff members of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration claimed to have seen Lincoln’s spirit, and on one occasion Roosevelt’s personal valet ran screaming from the White House claiming he had seen Lincoln’s ghost.
Perhaps the most famous incident was in 1942 when Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands allegedly heard footsteps outside her White House bedroom and answered a knock on the door, only to see Lincoln in frock coat and top hat standing in front of her (she promptly fainted).
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill loved to retire late, take a long, hot bath while drinking a Scotch, and smoke a cigar and relax. There is an account that on this occasion, he climbed out of the bath and naked, but for his cigar, walked into the adjoining bedroom. He was startled to see Lincoln standing by the fireplace in the room, leaning on the mantle. Churchill, always quick on the uptake, simply took his cigar out of his mouth, tapped the ash off the end of his cigar and said “Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.” Lincoln smiled softly, as if laughing and disappeared. Churchill smiled in embarrassment.
President Lyndon Johnson supposedly encountered Lincoln’s apparition, during a moment of great distress. President Johnson reportedly spoke to Lincoln, asking him how he handled an unpopular war (Lincoln was President during the American Civil War, which was extremely unpopular and Johnson was dealing with massive backlash over the Vietnam War). Lincoln reportedly replied “don’t go to the theater.”
Lincoln’s ghost was reportedly seen outside of the White House as well. In Loudonville, New York, Lincoln’s ghost was said to haunt a house that was owned by a woman who was present at Ford’s Theatre when Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth. Other Lincoln hauntings included his grave in Springfield, Illinois, a portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln and a phantom train on nights in April along the same path his funeral train followed from Washington, D.C. to Springfield.
The last sighting of Lincoln’s ghost was in the early 1980s, when Tony Savoy, White House operations foreman, came into the White House and saw Lincoln sitting in a chair at the top of some stairs.
Abraham Lincoln is not the only Lincoln ghost witnesses claim to have seen in the White House. Willie Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, died in the White House of typhoid on February 20, 1862. Willie Lincoln’s ghost was first reported to have been seen in the White House by staff members of the Grant administration in the 1870s, but reports have been made as recently as the 1960s. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s college-age daughter, Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, claims to have seen the ghost and talked to him.