Abraham Lincoln’s Haunting Dream
In the days and nights following Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the Union erupted in a star-spangled celebration of waving flags and chiming church bells, patriotic speeches and torchlight parades. Perhaps more than any man alive, Abraham Lincoln had reason to share in the nation’s joy. Yet on the evening of April 11, 1865, as the President and his wife entertained their old Illinois friend Ward Hill Lamon and several other acquaintances in the Red Room of the White House, Lincoln appeared to be almost melancholy.
Lamon, who later wrote down Lincoln’s words, recalled that the President mused on the subject of dreams and on a nightmare he had a few evenings earlier. “It seems strange,” Lincoln began, “how much there is in the Bible about dreams. There are, I think, some 16 chapters in the Old Testament and four or five in the New in which dreams are mentioned.” Be live res in the Bible, the President continued, “must accept the fact that in the old days God and His angels came to men in their sleep and made themselves known in dreams.”
Then, as if to dismiss the subject, he ruefully added: “Nowadays, dreams are regarded as very foolish, and are seldom told, except by old women and young men and maidens in love.”
But Mary Todd Lincoln, who had been afflicted since childhood by dreadful nightmares, would not let the subject drop. Did her husband truly believe in dreams?
“I can’t say that I do,” Lincoln replied, “but I had one the other night which has haunted me ever since.”
“You frighten me,” said Mrs. Lincoln. “What is the matter?”
By now the President evidently regretted having aroused the morbid fears that sprang from his wife’s anxious nature. “I am afraid that I have done wrong to mention the subject at all,” he said. “But somehow the thing has got possession of me, and, like Banquo’s ghost, it will not down.”
Despite her husband’s obvious reluctance, Mrs. Lincoln insisted that he describe the nagging nightmare, and at last he agreed. One recent night he had gone wearily to bed after waiting up late for imp or ant dispatches. Almost immediately he had fallen into a deep slumber and soon had begun to dream. “There seemed to be a deathlike stillness about me,” he said. “Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs.”
Finding no one, he roamed from room to room seeking the source of the sorrowing sounds. “I kept on,” he continued, “until I arrived in the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully.
“ ‘Who is dead in the White House? I demanded of one of the soldiers.
“ ‘The President,’ was his answer. ‘He was killed by an assassin!’ ”
The hush that fell upon the little gathering was broken at length by Mrs. Lincoln.
“That is horrid,” she said. “I wish you had not told it.”
The President was consoling. “It was only a dream, Mary,” he said.
“Let us say no more about it and try to forget it.”
Three days later on April 14, President Lincoln’s dream came to pass. He was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth at the Ford Theater. He died at 7:22 a.m. the next morning April 15 on Good Friday.
His corpse lay in state in the East Room. Soldiers stood as guards.
The president had been killed by an assassin.