ShareCharles J. Colchester also warned Lincoln. He was no solicitous friend, like Swett or Cole. Indeed, Lincoln hardly knew Colchester. But he was important to Mary Todd Lincoln, the president’s wife, and had become a regular visitor to the White House. Oddly, this strange character, a spiritualist and medium, was the one person Lincoln should have heeded. Colchester needed none of his prophetic powers to realize the president was in danger. His information likely came from the best of earthly sources—his friend John Wilkes Booth.
The story of Lincoln, Booth and Colchester—which has been overlooked in the considerable literature on the president’s assassination—began, in a sense, on the afternoon of February 20, 1862. About 5 p.m. that day, the Lincolns’ son Willie died at age 11, apparently of typhoid fever. Sweet-tempered Willie was the most intelligent and best-looking of the four Lincoln boys, and the one most like his father in personality. Both parents idolized him. Having lost their son Eddie 12 years earlier, when he was 3, they were devastated to be revisited by this peculiarly cruel sort of tragedy.
“His death was the most crushing affliction Mr. Lincoln had ever been called upon to pass through,” recalled the artist Francis Carpenter, who lived in the White House for six months while he painted the famous portrait of the president and his cabinet at the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. Willie had died on a Thursday. The following Thursday, Lincoln shut himself up in the Green Room to grieve, and he began a routine of withdrawing there each succeeding Thursday. Mary and her older sister Elizabeth Todd Edwards became alarmed over his state of mind, so they arranged for the Rev. Francis Vinton of Trinity Church in New York City to visit the president. Imperious and opinionated, Vinton, a lawyer and soldier by education, told Lincoln he was fighting with God by indulging his grief in this manner.
Lincoln heard Vinton out as if he were in a stupor until the minister said, “Your son is alive.”
“Alive! Alive!” Lincoln repeated, jumping up from a sofa. “Surely you mock me.”
“My dear sir,” Vinton responded as he placed an arm around the president. “Seek not your son among the dead. He is not there. He lives today in Paradise.” Vinton’s hopeful words notwithstanding, the cold comfort of the president’s fatalism was his chief solace. As he explained to his former law partner, William Herndon: “Things were to be, and they came, irresistibly came, doomed to come.” (Read more.)