Abraham Lincoln, Ghost Machine

By Alicia Puglionesi

William H. Mumler,  Mary Todd Lincoln , 1872. Courtesy of Allen County Public Library, Allen County, Indiana.

William H. Mumler, Mary Todd Lincoln, 1872. Courtesy of Allen County Public Library, Allen County, Indiana.

THE AMERICAN PSYCHE is very much haunted by foundational misdeeds of which we prefer not to speak; so many of our Hollywood ghouls and playground bogeymen mirror collective guilt back at us as entertainment. Neither are our heroes and “great men” safe from this fate. Just like those we’ve wronged—the mythical Indians buried beneath a cookie-cutter subdivision—those we admire are not allowed to rest as long as we need something from them. We will always need more. Optimistically, some might say that the work of democracy is never complete. I would suggest that we are somewhat diabolically trapped in an experience of the past as a looping absence which we populate with ghosts. We long for genuine contact with these ghosts, imagining that it could break the loop, that if we could only reach out and touch them they would tell us who we really are. Dealing with ghosts is frustrating because every time we draw near them they dissolve, leaving us to face our own reflections. I think of the séances and ouija boards with which we summon the dead as technologies attempting to puncture the loop. Whether or not you think psychic mediums are shabby scams, they stage a confrontation, forcing the dead to look at the current state of the world and take some share of the blame. As sincerely as we want ghosts’ help, their forgiveness, it is hard not to notice the extent to which mediumistic technologies are tuned to signals from their living audience. What we really want are automata.

Abraham Lincoln’s ghost roams tirelessly across the American landscape. This is not a story about his haunting of the West Wing, his son Willie’s grave, or any particular site, but rather about attempts to channel him through various media. Lincoln’s communications from beyond the veil often came at times of tension and uncertainty, when the universal individual rights asserted, though only partially realized, through the abolition of slavery were called into question, and when the unitary national “self” seemed liable to splinter apart. Attempts to reanimate Lincoln engaged quite explicitly with the question of who counts as a person, and how we might weigh the potential rights of the dead against the pressing needs of the living. His century-and-a-half afterlife reveals significant continuities, as well as subtle shifts, in the use of mediumship to speak for the dead.[1]

Modern American spiritualism famously originated in 1848, near Rochester, New York, where the sisters Margaret and Kate Fox began to hear mysterious rapping noises that they attributed to dead souls communicating from the afterlife. Their use of a code to speak with a far-distant person bore a strong resemblance to the telegraph, which had arrived in Rochester to much fanfare four years previously.[2] Indeed, Rochester was an early center of the telegraph industry, as well as a hotspot for radical reform movements such as abolition and women’s suffrage. When a pair of these reformers, Quakers Isaac and Amy Post, began sitting for séances with the Fox sisters, they realized the potential of spirit communication to advance their vision of a just society. The spirits of the dead could testify directly, with no institutional censorship, that God created all people equal, that every soul was redeemed.

Isaac Post soon discovered his own mediumistic abilities, and began what would become a widespread practice of channeling the spirits of the Founding Fathers and other patriotic luminaries. Through his pen, dead leaders from George Washington to repentant proto-secessionist John C. Calhoun sent directives on political matters of the day.[3] They militated for an end to slavery; indeed, the entire spirit-world was mobilized in this effort. The Posts promoted spiritualism’s revelations in public displays and through their network of reform organizations and newspapers.[4]

Historians still argue about the extent to which spiritualism was itself an instrument in the hands of social reformers. Perhaps the spirit voices and writings that chorused around abolition really belonged to savvy mediums puppeting the historical figures they claimed to channel. Ann Braude, in her influential study Radical Spirits, lays out this instrumentalist interpretation, allowing for the role of genuine religious conviction but emphasizing that a primary function of mediumship was empowering women to engage in public speech and political action.[5] By presenting themselves at first as mechanical scribes for dead men, mediums served as the sharp end of the wedge in expanding women’s social roles.

Subsequent scholars have argued, however, that this focus neglects the real significance of spiritualism, which lay not only in reifying Lockean liberal personhood, but in articulating, at the same time, a “theory of community predicated on the social practice of sympathetic communion.”[6] On both a personal and national level, spirits enacted the blended agency of living and dead, and the desire, however unrealizable, for a world without boundaries or loss. Paradoxically, while mediums suspended their individual agency to become conduits for the spirits, the dead also gave up whatever illusion of self-determination they may have entertained in life. They became part of a vast, sometimes impersonal, and often messy apparatus encompassing everyone from slaves to presidents.

The Fox Sisters. (From left to right: Margarets, Catherine and Leah, 1852, Library of Congress.

The Fox Sisters. (From left to right: Margarets, Catherine and Leah, 1852, Library of Congress.

Abraham Lincoln was famously accused of hosting séances in the White House, and spiritualists eagerly embraced him as “the noble and greatly harassed martyr” of their cause.[7] The medium Nettie Colburn Maynard titled her memoir Was Abraham Lincoln a Spiritualist? If one believes her claim to have guided him through the Civil War, the answer is yes. He certainly received immense quantities of mail from mediums around the country bearing urgent directives from the other side.[8] Whether or not Lincoln consulted with the shades of Washington, Franklin, and Adams, perhaps it occurred to him that he, too, would appear to mediums after his death. Unlike his fiery predecessors who frequented abolitionist circles, Lincoln’s messages from the spirit world emphasized reconciliation, mercy, and the joys of the heavenly life to come—prevalent post-war themes that allowed white Americans to bury the sins of slavery and the Confederacy, and to accept violent racial segregation as the cost of national unity.

During his life, Lincoln spoke both of national unity and of racial equality under the law; he said, and believed, different things over the course of his political career. Recalling him became a collaborative and creative act which multiplied this polyvocal quality. While channeling Lincoln’s opinions about events of which he had no knowledge in life, mediums consolidated inherently fragmentary data into what Robert Cox calls “resources for a reconstituted present.”[9] The author of the Emancipation Proclamation struck down at the very moment he was to begin reconciling North and South, would lend voice and legitimacy to competing visions of the United States.

Channeling Lincoln was tricky because, while George Washington belonged to the almost-mythical past, the country was steeped in Lincoln’s speeches and biographical minutia. The imagined intimacy that many felt with “father Abraham” made them inclined to scrutinize his purported spirit. The seasoned medium Cora L. V. Richmond delivered a trance lecture from Lincoln in 1881, but the editors of The Medium and Daybreak declined to print it because it was not “characteristic, to our view, of Abraham Lincoln.”[10] Though Richmond was one of spiritualism’s early superstars, the movement had no formal authority structure, and even believers often questioned specific performances.

Others, however, accepted Richmond’s Lincoln on the same grounds that The Medium and Daybreak editors objected: They felt that her words carried the President’s character, his essence. Waldo Dennis, a trustee of Richmond’s spiritualist church in Chicago, reminisced about his childhood during the war, when he “pored over the life of Lincoln,” relishing “every personal fact… He was my soul’s adoration.” Thus, Dennis listened attentively in February 1910 when Richmond rose to address her congregation with a message from Lincoln. Dennis was vividly impressed that he had witnessed the former President speaking, so much that he helped produce a printed edition of the sermon. “When you have perused the following reproduction of what he [Lincoln] said, perhaps you'll understand the satisfaction that was mine,” wrote Dennis.[11] Richmond’s biographer also underscored this identity of verbal expression. “Any student who is familiar with Lincoln’s state papers, or with his public addresses on any occasion,” he insisted, “cannot fail to recognize the similarity of thought in the terse sentences given through our medium.”[12] Indeed, such textual comparisons were an important tool for those who investigated the veracity of mediums.

These were some criteria by which spiritualists attributed identity to an absent other. But what did that absent individual, in this case Lincoln, reach back through the veil to say? Mediums around the country began channeling him as soon as he was buried, and it’s difficult not to place his messages within the context of a given moment. Transformations in Americans’ views of justice, citizenship, and nationhood registered in Lincoln’s changing voices; what audiences recognized as “Lincoln” was constituted by the nation’s collective need and remembering. During Cora L.V. Richmond’s earlier career, for instance, her channeling produced a wrathful and righteous commander-in-chief very different from the wise patriarch who warmed the heart of Waldo Dennis in 1910.

Cora L.V. Richmond, then known by her original surname, Scott, stopped in Washington, DC during a wartime lecture tour in 1865, married the dashing Union colonel Nathan W. Daniels, and offered her services as a spiritual advisor to highly-placed government officials. With an end to the war finally in sight, the city was tense with uncertainty. Radical Republicans feared that the South would be readmitted to the Union on lenient terms and freed blacks denied the rights of citizenship. John Wilkes Booth’s bullet raised these anxieties to a fever pitch—and Richmond’s spiritualist circle, which included Michigan Senator Jacob M. Howard and Republican congressmen from Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, wanted answers from Lincoln about how to finish the work of emancipation.

Richmond obliged, and soon made contact with the martyred president. Unlike her public trance lectures, where the spirits spoke in grandiloquent, elliptical abstractions, these séances produced very concrete, if wildly speculative, advice. Lincoln gave urgent tactical directives based on his knowledge in life and his close monitoring of Washington intrigue from the spirit world. As the prospect of political empowerment for African Americans soured, he condemned President Andrew Johnson as a traitor and urged impeachment.[13] Despite the aid of the spirits, the radical Republicans failed to impeach Johnson and failed to protect the rights of formerly enslaved people. Members of the circle helped to draft the Fourteenth Amendment. When Jacob Howard introduced it on the Senate floor, he said that he’d sought “suffrage [for] the colored race, to some extent at least,” but that the amendment could not pass with such a suffrage clause.[14]

As Cora continued channeling Lincoln well into the twentieth century, his priorities seemed to change. The radical equality of the spirit world ebbed out of his discourse in the 1870s, replaced by the rhetoric of mercy and salvation.[15] While, in 1866, Lincoln was bent on hunting down Booth’s co-conspirators, in 1881 he urged Americans not to grieve the murder of President Garfield, but rather to view it salubriously as the “sudden and significant shock that a nation needs,” and to immediately pardon the assassin.[16] By that time, the tableau of Lincoln forgiving and befriending John Wilkes Booth in the spirit world had become commonplace, a proxy for the reunion of North and South through collective forgetting. Booth—that is, the South—felt deep “sorrow and remorse” for his selfish actions, reported the medium John Edmonds.[17] After all, “I only enacted my part in the great drama,” Booth explained through another medium. “Mr. Lincoln and I understand this.”[18] The values at the pinnacle of spirit wisdom were the values most relevant to the comfort of their living interlocutors.

While mercy was required, acknowledging loss—granting meaningful reality to death—was forbidden. Grief and mourning were “not natural; they do not belong to the age in which you live,” Lincoln, by way of Cora L.V. Richmond, declared.[19] There is a certain rigorous, even cruel, idealism to the spiritualist refusal of mourning for the dead. “No tears of sorrow for the dead, but all these for the living,” Lincoln exhorted, enumerating the hardships of urban poverty under industrial capitalism. “Mourn for the nation, that she still feels the shadows and the darkness that shrouded her in the night time of slavery.”[20] If we redact the idyllic summer-land from Richmond’s speeches, we are left with the utilitarian notions that no individual is very special in the grand scheme of things; the dead, insofar as they exist, should be in the service of the living; and all our energies should be devoted to making a better world in the here-and-now—which may require appropriating the voices of certain respected historical figures.

Users of spiritualist technology understood that the “intelligence” which emerged from seances was a hybrid production, accomplished through artificial means. It contained traces of the dead individual, which witnesses could scrutinize to establish identity. Often, however, the threshold for confirming identity was very low, with the audience’s needs and the medium’s mission given priority. For skeptics, this was a troubling take on what it means to be a person: we are mostly context and relations. As much as they, like the spiritualists, believed that the soul carries on eternally, they could not accept that it might be carried in the shambling, noisy apparatus of mediumship, dependent for expression on hysterical women. The soul needed a nobler vessel, or perhaps just a better-engineered one.




Cora LV Richmond, as pictured in  Life Work of Mrs. Cora LV Richmond , ed. Harrison D. Barrett.

Cora LV Richmond, as pictured in Life Work of Mrs. Cora LV Richmond, ed. Harrison D. Barrett.

Lincoln Reanimated

Americans’ persistent fascination with the Civil War president assured that he would circulate widely in emerging media from photography to animatronics to holograms.[21] Despite their sometimes-unnerving realism, most viewers understand these media as representational; an image of Lincoln, even a hologram reciting the Gettysburg Address, makes no claim to embody the “real” Lincoln. However, such technological spectacles, fused with notions of channeling received from spiritualism, have long shaped our imagination of the self as an immaterial “something” animating a mechanical substrate.

The spiritualist mechanics of the soul were too diffuse and contingent to suit the mode of being often termed “Western individualism”. Film, robotics, computer animation, and virtual reality all offer mechanical objectivity, but have long been missing their souls. For a machine to run the program of the self, the human soul has to be fixed and externalized: in contemporary terms, rendered data. While computer science believes itself close to realizing this vision in 2019, science fiction has been anticipating the consequences for a hundred years—and in many ways, the ethical and metaphysical dilemmas played out in science fiction echo those of spiritualism, down to an uncanny parallel in their sidelong engagement with the dangers of the ventriloquized, and potentially commodified, self. No matter how objective the instrument, if its basic design functions to meet the needs of a movement or market, this implicitly undermines the claim that it gives voice to an autonomous intelligence. The use of Abraham Lincoln as a prototype for many real and fictional reanimations is not an entirely arbitrary convention.

At the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, New York, visitors to the Illinois Pavilion entered a plush theater where Abraham Lincoln sat in an armchair framed by a pair of Ionic columns. The world’s most advanced audio-animatronic robot rose and delivered a five-minute speech that spliced together selections from Lincoln’s oratory. “At what point shall we expect the approach of danger?” he asked an audience raised on duck-and-cover drills. “Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow?” His not-so-reassuring answer was that “if [danger] ever reach us, it must spring amongst us [. . .] If destruction be our lot, we be [its] author [. . .].”[22] These lines came from an 1838 speech in which Lincoln chided violent pro-and anti-slavery factions to obey the rule of law, to pursue their goals through gradual legal reform, not vigilante actions. What was the “danger from within” supposed to conjure for Americans sitting in the bunker-like World’s Fair pavilion in April of 1964?

The previous summer, President John F. Kennedy had taken to the airwaves to deliver a “Report to the American People on Civil Rights,” in which he urged legislation to end a century of formal white supremacy. Five months later, Kennedy was shot. It was up to his successor, another vice president and Southern Democrat named Johnson, to push the Civil Rights Act through Congress. When the Lincoln robot plied its first audience with the exhortation that “right makes might,” Southern senators had been filibustering the Act for twenty-three days. Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X had appeared on Capitol Hill. The “danger from within” was these black leaders and the oppressed population they mobilized; it was Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd spewing racist ideology on the Senate floor; it was Lee Harvey Oswald and/or a vast CIA conspiracy. It was the moderates at work on compromise legislation. It all depended on one’s point of view.

The patriotic but protean “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” was the brainchild of Walter Elias Disney. Disney, like many of his generation, grew up idealizing Lincoln as a great unifier—unity being a value that also underpinned the increasingly homogenized American consumer culture that Disney helped create.[23] Biographer Neal Gabler describes the cartoon impresario as a sort of medium, and his obsession with Lincoln as “one American institution channeling another.”[24] After the World’s Fair, “Great Moments” moved to the Disneyland theme park in California, where Disney had crafted a nostalgic pageant of American history that managed to celebrate Lincoln’s leadership without mentioning slavery.[25]

The Lincoln robot, adapted from the tape systems that ran nuclear submarines, seems like a strange deployment of a million-dollar futuristic technology. Perhaps, from an engineering standpoint, Lincoln was a practical choice for a prototype: iconic, patriotic, and educational. It’s clear, though, that this particular president spoke to Disney in a special way, and seems to have kindled a special response in the American imagination. As audiences, and science fiction writers, played out the implications of ever more sophisticated robots, Lincoln remained a star of their thought experiments. Robot Lincoln, like spirit Lincoln, gave everyone what they needed, facilitating a unity in solipsism that may well characterize Americans’ national identity.

Alexander Gardner,  Portrait of Abraham Lincoln , 1863, Washington, D.C.

Alexander Gardner, Portrait of Abraham Lincoln, 1863, Washington, D.C.

Ray Bradbury’s 1969 short story “Downwind from Gettysburg” is a fairly straightforward caricature of Disney and “Great Moments”; a Lincoln animatronic, though not intelligent, fulfills its inventor’s desire for intimacy with the dead president until its inevitable assassination by a descendent of John Wilkes Booth.[26] The junior Booth explains that his bitter jealousy of the immortal Lincoln drove him to commit robot-murder. Booth’s lament, that of a mere mortal gazing upon immortality, doesn’t differentiate between the historical Lincoln who lives on in national memory and the machine Lincoln made possible by computer technology. They are similarly unkillable, consisting of infinitely reproducible ideas or codes. Each “speaks and acts perfection … [for] a hundred, two hundred years.”[27] Even a behaviorist, however, might require more evidence of sentience than the ability to sit, stand, and play a recording of the Gettysburg Address. Bradbury’s robot Lincoln, like Disney’s, is clearly missing an internal experience of subjectivity. Could the robot medium go beyond illusion?

The 1972 Philip K. Dick novel, We Can Build You, envisions an affirmative answer. It begins with a get-rich-quick scheme hatched by a pair of seedy piano salesman in near-future suburban Boise. They decide to convert their electric organ factory to produce “electronic simulacra”—that is, artificially-intelligent robots. As Louis, the meek and nebbish half of the duo, arrives at the office one morning, a familiar form appears in the plate-glass window, “the tall, bearded, hunched twilight figure of Abraham Lincoln.”[28] Much like previous manifestations of Lincoln's ghost, this one answers a desire for national unity amid social turmoil. “What's on the mind of America these days?” demands Maury, the bombastic hustler driving the operation. Louis ventures a few guesses appropriate to the 1970s—sex and the space race—before Maury answers his own question: “The Civil War of 1861.”[29] He proposes refighting the Civil War with robot actors as a catharsis for Americans’ violent urges, a concept taken up in Michael Crichton’s 1973 film Westworld. But Maury’s robot armies never materialize; the plot centers on the twin dilemmas of solipsism and agency embodied in the Lincoln simulacrum.

After a painful activation in which his consciousness is summoned from a sort of placeless ether, robot Lincoln commences an inquiry into what it means to be human. At first, he espouses the historical Lincoln's commitment to equality under the law between white and black races, though not “political and social equality.” However, as mechanical reanimation allows him to experience the indignity of being treated like a thing, Lincoln adopts the now familiar trans-humanist argument that puts virtual persons next in line for the expanding franchise. The punchline of the book is delivered before the halfway point: As investors haggle over the price of the Great Emancipator, Lincoln interjects, “Did I not hear you, a short while ago, express the notion of ‘acquiring me,’ as an asset of some kind? [. . .] I believe there is no more ‘acquiring’ of any human in the world today [. . .].”[30] He only has to evoke the specter of slavery once; the other characters acquiesce to his assertion of autonomy. Louis and Maury hire him as their lawyer, though in setting his fee they neglect to inform him that the value of the dollar has declined significantly since 1865.

Philip K. Dick,  We Can Build You , 1983, New York City, NY: DAW Books. Cover Design by: John Schoenherr

Philip K. Dick, We Can Build You, 1983, New York City, NY: DAW Books. Cover Design by: John Schoenherr

Though created in the service of an improbable and possibly insane money-making scheme, the Lincoln simulacrum behaves with greater dignity, consistency, and feeling than the book's human characters, a phenomenon which they at first observe with unease, but quickly take for granted, accepting Lincoln as a trusted advisor and confidant. Louis repeatedly visits public libraries to gain insight into his robot friend's complex psyche. Since so much of Lincoln is in the public record, Louis finds it easier to identify with him than with biological humans whose motives he cannot know—and who seem to act with no rational motives at all. The fixing of Lincoln’s soul as a text renders him more accessible and therefore more plausibly human.

The fact that robot Lincoln is unproblematically human for much of the story elides the act of ventriloquism at the heart of this performance. How do Maury’s electronic simulacra of historical figures actually work? According to Maury, a large body of data is transcribed onto punch tape that feeds the robot's “ruling monad,” its mechanical brain. To feign scientific legitimacy, he claims that this work happened at UCLA. We later learn that the content was actually developed by an eighteen-year-old woman just released from a state psychiatric facility, who happens to be Maury’s daughter, Pris.

“When I was a kid in junior high Lincoln was my hero,” Pris explains, evoking the origin story of Disney’s “Great Moments”. “I gave a report on him in the eighth grade.” This qualified Pris to channel the character and personality of Lincoln. “I really spun it out of my own mind [. . .] The real Lincoln exists in my mind,” she insists.[31] In the maddening universe of Philip K. Dick, everyone else accepts Lincoln as genuine while rejecting Pris as artificial. This is a diabolical extension of the bargain made by spiritualist mediums, whose best hope of being heard lay in becoming an apparatus for someone else. Pris's schizophrenia renders her communications telegraphic and mechanical, qualities associated with the entranced medium; she is constantly denied agency and threatened with institutionalization. No one believes her when she confesses that Lincoln is an emanation of herself. The other characters prefer to see him as autonomous and free. Pris alone knows that Lincoln is a fevered fusion of desire and collective memory, always already virtual.

It doesn’t take the paranoid epistemology of Philip K. Dick to see the nightmare beneath Disneyland’s nostalgic, frictionless Main Street.[32] Yet as disturbing events cause Louis to question the distinction between real and virtual, a robot version of Abraham Lincoln conceived as a money-making scheme becomes his only stable point of reference, a tool for fixing his own threatened identity. Like visitors to Disney’s “Great Moments,” and like audiences at Cora L.V. Richmond’s lectures, Louis gets what he needs from Lincoln: an image of the self and the nation as he desperately wants them to be—immortal, right, and free from the complicated, compromising relations upon which life depends. Louis’s fantasy of freedom is the fantasy that, paradoxically, drives us to create automata.

It’s not that ghosts aren’t there. Rather, our strange desire to access them requires intermediary technologies that separate out self from other, living from dead, organism from environment, so that we can sit face-to-face and demand answers. Spiritualism began this process of building ghost machines to soothe the American imagination, though its apparatus was a bit too visible for skeptics, its feedback process obvious to the modern eye. Even robot Lincoln’s punch-card consciousness proved inextricable from the world from and for which it was conjured—conjured, once again, by a woman who must act the automaton so that a ghost can appear free. We might shrink the instrument down to a circuit board, and then to an immaterial body of information and code, but we can’t control how future ghost-hunters will use our never-pure data to reanimate us and themselves.


  1. There is a very robust literature on Lincoln hauntings. The lurking physical specter differs in kind from the spirit of Lincoln that inhabits human or computer media in the examples that follow.

  2.  William Farley Peck, Landmarks of Monroe County, New York (Boston, MA: Boston History Company, 1895) 144.

  3.  Isaac Post, Voices from the Spirit World: Being Communications from Many Spirits, by the Hand of Isaac Post (Rochester, NY: Charles H. McDonnell, 1852).

  4.  On the importance of the periodical press to the spiritualist movement, see Ann Braude, “News from the Spirit World: A Checklist of American Spiritualist Periodicals, 1847-1900,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 99, no. 2 (1990): 399–506.

  5.  Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America, second edition (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001).

  6.  Robert S. Cox, Body and Soul: A Sympathetic History of American Spiritualism (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2003), 70.

  7.  Emma Hardinge Britten, Modern American Spiritualism: A Twenty Years’ Record of the Communion between Earth and the World of Spirits (New York, The author, 1870), 301.

  8.  William Osborn Stoddard, Inside the White House in War Times (New York, NY: C.L. Webster & Company, 1890) 32.

  9.  Robert S. Cox, “Vox Populi: Spiritualism and George Washington’s Postmortem Career,” Early American Studies 1, no. 1 (2003): 233.

  10.  “Notes and Comments,” The Medium and Daybreak 12:605, November 4, 1881, 696.

  11.  Cora L. V. Richmond, Abraham Lincoln (Chicago: Church of the Soul, 1910) 1-2.

  12.  Harrison Delivan Barrett, Life Work of Mrs. Cora L.V. Richmond (Chicago: Hack & Anderson, 1895) 118.

  13.  John B. Buescher, “Across the Dead Line: Lincoln and the Spirits during the War and Reconstruction Era Washington” (International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals, n.d. http://iapsop.com/spirithistory/index.html) 35-52. Cora L.V. Richmond and Nathan Daniels kept records of these gatherings in their personal diaries, discovered by a descendent and now housed in the Library of Congress. Nathan W. Daniels diary and scrapbook, 1861-1867, Vol. 2-3, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

  14.  "Senator Howard’s Speech", Philadelphia Inquirer (May 24, 1866).

  15.  Braude, Radical Spirits (2001) 162; Robert S. Cox, Body and Soul: A Sympathetic History of American Spiritualism (University of Virginia Press, 2003), 191-195.

  16. Cora L. V. Richmond, “The Nation’s Sorrow: Shall It Be Turned to Joy?” Banner of Light (October 8, 1881) 355.

  17.  Edmonds, Judge. Letters and Tracts on Spiritualism. Also, Two Inspirational Orations by C. L. V. Tappan. Edited by James Burns (1875) 299 – 301.

  18.  Joseph D. Stiles, “John Wilkes Booth,” Banner of Light 19, no. 1 (March 24, 1866) 3.

  19.  Cora L. V. Richmond, “The Nation’s Sorrow: Shall It Be Turned to Joy?” Banner of Light (October 8, 1881) 355.

  20.  Ibid.

  21.  For an analysis of the holographic spectacle developed by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, see Ivan Ross, “Digital Ghosts in the History Museum: The Haunting of Today’s Mediascape,” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 27, no. 6 (December 2013): 825–36. While many authors discuss Lincoln’s legacy from the perspective of memory studies, they focus on more conventional discourse to the exclusion of ghosts, spirits, and robots. For example, see Barry Schwartz, Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory (University of Chicago Press, 2000).

  22.  Paul Anderson, “Persistence of Vision”; Lincoln’s words are from his “Address before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois,” (January 27, 1838), digitized by the University of Missouri, St. Louis, http://www.umsl.edu/virtualstl/phase2/1850/events/perspectives/documents/lincoln01.html.

  23.  Barry Schwartz, Abraham Lincoln and the Forge of National Memory (University of Chicago Press, 2000) 191-224. Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (New York: Vintage, 2007) 579.

  24.  Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (New York, NY: Alfred A Knopf 2007) 579.

  25.  Michael Wallace, "Mickey Mouse History: Portraying the Past at Disney World," in Warren Leon and Roy Rosenzweig, History Museums in the United States: A Critical Assessment (Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1989) 162-163.

  26.  Ray Bradbury, I Sing the Body Electric! (New York: Knopf, 1969) 72-90.
    27  Ibid, 83.

  27.  Philip K. Dick, We Can Build You (New York: Vintage, 1994) 77.

  28.  Ibid, 10.

  29.  Ibid, 108.

  30.  Ibid, 66.

  31.  Michael Wallace, "Mickey Mouse History: Portraying the Past at Disney World" in Warren Leon and Roy Rosenzweig, eds., History Museums in the United States: A Critical Assessment (Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1989) 162.


Alicia Puglionesi is a Baltimore-based historian and poet whose work explores phenomena of haunting in a disenchanted world. She holds a PhD in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine from Johns Hopkins University. Her essays and nonfiction have appeared in Atlas Obscura, Motherboard, History.com, The Public Domain Review, The New Inquiry, and The Point. These pieces often seek the deeper meanings inscribed within overlooked sites, strange events, and forgotten life stories.