Predicting Lincoln’s Death by Horoscope, Trance, and Manual Alphabet

Predicting Lincoln’s Death by Horoscope, Trance, and Manual Alphabet Liberty mourns Lincoln’s death over his coffin, 1865

Most of us have heard (perhaps ad nauseam) the story of Abraham Lincoln’s recurring dream about hearing people sobbing in the White House and finding that he has been assassinated. He also reported an incident where he saw his doppelganger in a mirror—looking pallid and sickly—a portent of death. As we did with predictions of the doom of the RMS Titanic, let us look at some lesser-known omens of Lincoln’s death.

There was another recurring dream that also presaged disaster for Lincoln. Here is an early mention of the dream, by the prosecutor in the John H. Surratt trial, Edwards Pierrepoint, who cited it in his arguments to the jury.

On the 13th of April, 1865, Abraham Lincoln called together his cabinet. He was in good spirits, for, as you well remember, we had at that time been receiving the most gratifying and cheering news; but still upon his soul there lay a heavy gloom, and he remarked, “I am very anxious to hear from Sherman.” The reply was, “You will hear good news from Sherman. There can’t be any doubt about that.” General Grant was there, and he knew Sherman. He took occasion to assure the President that the news from Sherman would be all right.  I don’t know,” replied Mr. Lincoln, and then repeated what he had before said, “I am very anxious to hear from Sherman,” adding the remark, “I feel some great disaster is coming upon us. Last night I was visited by a strange dream, the same dream that in the darkness of the night, when deep sleep had fallen on men, hath three times before visited me. Before the battle of Bull Run, before the battle of Stone river, before the battle of Chancellorsville, it came to me, and the following day came the news of the disaster. This same dream came to me last night in my sleep, and I feel as if some great calamity is to befall the nation, in which I am to be personally affected.” The members of the cabinet who heard that will never forget it. In a few hours afterwards (a pause) he did not hear from Sherman, but the Dream came again and led his spirit up to God who gave it.

Argument of Hon. Edwards Pierrepont to the jury: on the trial of John H. Surratt for the Murder of President Lincoln, Edwards Pierrepont, 1867

Here is another version from a different, fifth-hand source and I have to say that Dickens tells Stanton’s rendition better than anyone:

SIR M. E. GRANT DUFF, in his “Notes from a Diary,” tells the story as follows. It was told to the author by Charles Dickens, who had it from Stanton, the Secretary of War.

Dean Stanley, who had also heard Dickens tell the story, corroborated the accuracy of the present version. Stanton had been called to a Council at the President’s, but arrived somewhat late.

After the Council was over, I walked away with the Attorney-General, and said to him, “Well, if all Councils were like this, the war would soon be at an end. The President, instead of sitting on half-a-dozen chairs and telling amusing stories, has applied himself to business, and we’ve got through a great deal of work.”

“Yes,” said the Attorney-General, “but you were late. You don’t know what happened.”

“No,” I answered. “What did happen?”

“All the rest of us,” rejoined he, “were pretty punctual, and when we came in we found the President sitting with his head on his hand, and looking very unlike himself. At length he lifted his head, and looking around us, said,

“Gentlemen, in a few hours we shall receive some very strange intelligence.” Very much surprised, I said to him, “Sir, you have got some very bad news.” “No,” he answered, “I have got no news, but in a few hours we shall receive some very strange intelligence.”

Still more astonished, I said, “May we ask, sir, what leads you to suppose we shall receive this intelligence?”

He replied, “I’ve had a dream. I had it the night before Bull’s Run. I had it on some other occasion (which Mr. Dickens had forgotten), and I had it last night.”

This was stranger than ever, and I said, ”May we ask, sir, the nature of your dream?”

He replied, “I’m alone — I’m in a boat, and I’m out on the bosom of a great rushing river, and I drift, and I drift, and I drift.” At this moment came your knock at the door. The President said, “but this is not business, gentlemen. Here is Mr. Stanton.” Five hours afterwards Lincoln was assassinated.

What is Spiritualism?, Who Are These Spiritualists, and What Has Spiritualism Done for the World?, J. M. Peebles, M. D., M. A., 1903

The medium Daniel Dunglas Home was said to have predicted Lincoln’s demise and the attack on his Secretary of State, William H. Seward. Mrs. Milner Gibson was a well-known Spiritualist, and Light, May 21, 1881 mentions a visit of Home to Mr. and Mrs. Milner Gibson’s when the medium rose to the ceiling. However nothing is said regarding Lincoln or Seward and I cannot find any mention in Home’s own work about this prediction. The following was repeated verbatim in various publications, but so far I’ve not located another source.


Amongst the number of mediumistic predictions connected with the great American war must be reckoned the warnings which the unfortunate Lincoln received touching the danger which threatened his life. The tragic end of this great man had amongst other things, been predicted a long time in advance. In 1863, in the month of August, Mr. Home being in the trance condition at Dieppe, at the house of Mrs. Milner Gibson, wife of the English cabinet minister, foretold the events which befell the victims Lincoln and Seward. This fact was attested at the time by the witnesses present. Mrs. Gibson told us of it some days after. Revue Spiritualiste.

The Spiritual Magazine June 1, 1865 

Much stranger is this story, paired with the one above in the same Spiritualist publication:


The Superintendent of the New York Institution for the Deaf and Dumb relates the following strange story: “On the Wednesday night preceding the President’s assassination, a little deaf and dumb girl in our institution got up in her sleep, went to a class-mate, and, after rousing her, spelt with the manual  alphabet, ‘Lincoln is shot.’ In the morning the somnambulist knew nothing of the circumstance till informed of it by her friend in the presence of others. The incident would probably never have been recalled but for the sad emphasis which after events gave it. It now seems one of those cases of prescience which often puzzle mental philosophers.” Philadelphia War Press, USA

The Spiritual Magazine June 1, 1865

Surprisingly, not many clairvoyants claimed after the fact that they had predicted Lincoln’s assassination. There was a Mrs Gail from Chicago and Boston’s Professor Thomas Lister, “astrologer.” He advertised himself as a “seer” as early as the late 1840s and, in 1874, boasted that he had been 42 years in practice.

The Columbia Register [New Haven, CT] for 18 December 1875: p. 1 quoted him as saying, “I predicted the assassination of Abraham Lincoln September 28, 1864, seven months before it took place. Under this date I wrote to the Boston Herald in which I said: ‘A deep, base plot will be formed against the person of the president, as shown by the planet Mars. This planet indicates death from pistol shot.’ You can refer to the files of the Boston Herald and there read what I predicted.”

Well, I did refer to the files of the Boston Herald for that date–in vain. Throughout 1864 Professor Lister, Astrologer and Botanic Physician advertises a Brief oral, 50 cents or a few questions answered by mail for 50 cents in stamps. A written Nativity for three years to come $1; all through life, ladies $3, gents $5. His ads appear punctually about every two weeks. But I saw no prediction letter and my databases do not cover that exact date. We might assume that the Professor also was counting on his 1875 readers not having the correct back issue. However, this next item may bring us a little closer to the actual prediction.

A letter from Mrs. Lydia Maria Child to Theodore Tilton, dated 6 May 1865, published in The Liberator, 26 May, 1865 reads:

With regard to the violent manner of his death, have you noticed that it was singularly hinted at by an astrological prediction, months before it happened? A modern believer in astrology, who signs himself Thomas Lister, calculated the horoscope of Abraham Lincoln, and published it in a newspaper, Sept. 29, 1864. It was therein stated that the President was born under Jupiter, a planet whose influence usually made men fortunate in their undertakings. It predicted that he would be reelected in November, because, astrologically speaking, “His ruling planet will then be transiting over his ascendant in his own house”. He goes on to say; “The transit of the evil planet. Mars, in opposition with his ascendant, plainly shows that the struggle will continue till April, 1865, when the foes of the Union will be compelled to lay down their arms. In December, 1864, and in January, 1865, some deep base plot will be got up against the President, shown by the transit of Mars; and the aspect of that planet shows danger by pistol-shot, or some infernal machine. During these months, more than ordinary caution and watchfulness will be highly necessary. After February, that evil transit will have passed away. We could increase our remarks concerning the personal danger of the President, but believe forbearance in this case to be a virtue.”

Not exactly spot-on—the “evil transit” did not pass away—but predicting the end of the War in April 1865 is pretty good.

Does anyone have a better Lincoln prophecy? Or a copy of the original Lister letter to the Boston Herald?  Was it the 28th or the 29th?  Chriswoodyard8 AT

[Originally posted in 2014.]

Chris Woodyard is the author of A is for Arsenic: An ABC of Victorian Death, The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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