When Mary Lincoln Was Adjudged Insane

New light on the tragic case of a President’s widow who saw her own son as a hated enemy

It is generally known that Mrs. Abraham Lincoln was adjudged insane in later life. The circumstances of her sanity trial, however, are not so familiar and certain details have been lacking. A new document has now come to light which brings the tragic event into focus as vividly as if it were done in technicolor.

 
 
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The Madness Of Mary Lincoln

Her son had her committed. She said it was so he could get his hands on her money. Now, 130 years after this bitter and controversial drama, a trove of letters—long believed destroyed—sheds new light on it.

In August 1875, after spending three months in a sanitarium in Batavia, Illinois, put there by her son against her will, Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the martyred President, wrote: “It does not appear that God is good, to have placed me here. I endeavor to read my Bible and offer up my petitions three times a day. But my afflicted heart fails me and my voice often falters in prayer.

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The House At Eighth And Jackson

Clues uncovered during the recent restoration of his house at Springfield help humanize the Lincoln portrait

One good measure of our apparently inexhaustible interest in Abraham Lincoln is that this year eight hundred thousand of us will be led through his house at the corner of Eighth and Jackson streets in Springfield, Illinois. So many people edge past the horsehair furniture and stomp up and down the narrow stairs that the National Park Service had to close the place down in 1987, take much of it apart, and put it back together again, newly decorated and sturdily reinforced with steel, to withstand the next generation of pilgrims. Read more »

How To Be First Lady

The ground rules have changed drastically since 1789. Abigail Adams, stifled in her time, would have loved being First Lady today.

ONCE AGAIN the candidates gear up for a national election; not only the candidates but their wives too. And pity the ladies! Their husbands run against different opponents; they, for nearly forty years, have had to measure up to one woman—Eleanor Roosevelt. Read more »

Another Assassination, Another Widow, Another Embattled Book

Just about a hundred years ago, there was another shattering presidential assassination, another desperately unhappy (albeit very different) widow, and another well-meaning but indiscreet intimate who wrote a book that someone named Robert would have liked to suppress. The book that outraged Robert Todd Lincoln was called Behind the Scenes; Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House.

Journey’s End: 1865

Two humble memories—a brakeman‘s and a carpenter’s—bring back the human moments of a nation’s tragedy

In the fall of 1864 William S. Porter, a young man from the sleepy southern Illinois town of Jerseyville, was mustered out of service with the 145th Illinois Infantry. He was just sixteen, but the war had left a man’s lines in his face. A few days after his discharge he became a brakeman on the Chicago and Alton Railroad—riding on the tops of trains, setting hand brakes and couplings. From the swaying roofs of boxcars and coaches he watched the prairie roll past, in sunlight and starlight, all the way from Chicago to St. Louis.Read more »