The Lincoln Home
Is It Really Haunted? And If So, Do the Lincoln's
Really Walk Here?
by Troy Taylor
By 1844, Lincoln was able to afford to
purchase a home in Springfield. It was a one-and-a-half story cottage at
the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets, not far from Lincoln's law
office in the downtown district.. The Lincoln's lived in the house from
a period shortly after Robert was born until they moved to Washington in
The house was originally built
in 1839 by a Reverend Dresser and was designed in the Greek
Revival Style. Lincoln purchased the home in 1844, while it was
still a small cottage. It had been constructed with pine
exterior boards; walnut interiors; oak flooring; and wooden pegs
and hand-made nails held everything together. In 1850, Lincoln
improved the exterior of the property by having a brick wall
constructed and by adding a fence along Jackson Street but
nothing major was done to the house until 1856. At this time,
the house was enlarged to a full two stories, adding new rooms
and much needed space.
Today, the house is presented in much the same way as it looked
during the Lincoln years. It is now owned and operated by the
National Park Service and they are not publicly thrilled that
the house has gained notoriety as a "haunted" site. They have
always maintained that no ghosts walk here, although many of the
witnesses to the strange events have been former employees and
tour guides of the house.
For many years, stories have
circulated about the apparition of a woman lurking about the house. Many
pass this off to wishful thinking, but in more than one circumstance,
the image has been spotted by multiple witnesses.
A number of years ago, the Springfield State Journal-Register
newspaper interviewed some (then) current and former staff members of
the house, all of whom claimed to have had brushes with the supernatural
here. At that time, a woman named Shirlee Laughlin was employed at the
house as a custodian. She claimed that her superiors were very unhappy
with what they termed her "vivid imagination". But were the events she
experienced really all in her mind?
In her interview, Laughlin claimed to have experienced ghosts in the
house on many occasions. "I don't see the images as such," she said, "I
see things happening."
A vintage view of the Lincoln Home, looking down
|Among the things she witnessed were toys and
furniture that could be found in different rooms of the house at
different times, seemingly moving about on their own; unlit
candles that would mysteriously burn down on their own; and
Lincoln's favorite rocking chair rocking back and forth under
its own power. "At times, that rocking chair rocks," she stated,
"and you can feel the wind rushing down the hall, even though
the windows are shut tight."
Laughlin also recounted an occurrence that took
place while she was rearranging furniture in Mary Lincoln's
former bedroom. Besides being a custodian, she was also an
expert on historic home restoration and would often attempt to
recreate the layout of the household furniture as it looked when
the Lincoln's lived in the house.
She was in the bedroom alone one afternoon when someone tapped her on
the shoulder. She looked around the room, but there was no one there.
She decided to leave the furniture the way she had found it.
And that was not the only weird experience from the time that she spent
working at the house. Another anecdote concerned a key which turned up
missing from a wooden chest in Mary's room. "We looked everywhere for
it," Laughlin reported, "then one morning it just showed up in the lock
with a piece of pink ribbon tied to it." No explanation was ever
discovered for where the key had been or for who had tied the piece of
ribbon around it.
One former guide said that she was on duty at the front door one
afternoon when she heard the sound of music being played on the piano
that used to be in the parlor. She turned to stop whoever had touched it
and found that no one was in the room.
Another ranger who worked in the house recalled several occasions when
strange feelings, and the touch of invisible hands, caused her to close
up the house quickly on some evenings.
And again, she wasn't alone either. One ranger, who spoke to me
anonymously, told me of one late afternoon when she was in the front
parlor by herself. There is a display here of some of the items that
could commonly be found in households of the period, including some
children's toys. As she was standing in the room, she caught a movement
out of the corner of her eye. When she looked, she saw a small toy as it
rolled across the floor on its own.
She didn't stay in the room very long.
Staff members are not the only ones to have odd encounters. A number of
tourists have also noticed things that are a bit out of the ordinary,
like hearing voices in otherwise empty rooms; hearing the rustle of what
sounds like a period dress passing by them in the hallway; experiencing
unexplainable cold spots; and most common, seeing that rocking chair as
it gently moves back and forth.
One tourist, an attorney from Virginia, even wrote the staff after he
returned home to tell them of his own strange sighting. He claimed to
see a woman standing in the parlor of the house who abruptly vanished.
He had enough time to recognize the woman as what he thought was Mary
But was the ghost really Mary? For those who believe the
house is actually haunted (The National Park Service maintains that it
is not!), they believe the ghost here is not actually one of the Lincoln
family, but rather a later occupant of the house, Mrs. Lucian A. Tilton.
Mrs. Tilton and her husband, the president of the Great Western Railway,
had rented the home from the Lincoln family when they left for
Washington in 1861. However, after the president's assassination, his
body was placed on display in the house when he was returned to
Springfield. Mrs. Tilton had been constantly plagued by visitors during
the four years that she lived in the house, prior to 1865. They
estimated that at least 65,000 people had visited the home and asked to
take a tour of it, ringing the bell and knocking on the door day and
Needless to say, Mrs. Tilton was
worried about what might happen to the house during the Lincoln funeral
but she was a kind-hearted person and had already resolved herself to
the fact that she was going to allow people to take grass from the yard,
flowers from her garden or leaves from the trees. She had no idea what
was coming --- by the end of the funeral services, her lawn and gardens
had been stripped, paint had been scraped from her house and bricks had
been carried away from her retaining wall as souvenirs.
The Tiltons moved out of the Lincoln
home in 1869 but some believe that Mrs. Tilton has never left it. There
are those that believe the ghost who lingers here, and who has been seen
on many occasions cleaning and straightening the house, is the
beleaguered Mrs. Tilton, still worried over the disruptions that
continually marked her brief tenancy in this famous home.
Copyright 2007 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.