Spiritualists, clairvoyants, or mediums were on the increase after the end of the Civil War due to the thousands of grieving survivors trying to connect with lost loved ones. It was so much accepted, that by the 1880s, the Universalist Church in St. Charles was converted into the hub of the Spiritualist movement in Northern Illinois.
A very popular spiritualist, Caroline Howard, owned the Howard House Hotel. Mrs. Howard had long been "noted" for her psychic abilities, such as her role in the recovery of a lost corpse during the Richards Riot of 1849. The Howard House was a very lively hotel in its day and had frequent guests from all over the country. In 1871, a guest registered by the name of "Mrs. May" quickly became the talk of the town. According to local legend, "Mrs. May" was actually the grieving Mary Todd Lincoln and her purpose in St. Charles was to consult the "most noted medium," Caroline Howard. Years later in 1936, eye-witnesses retold the story and cited specific details in the St. Charles Chronicle, "When Mrs. Lincoln Came Here to Consult Most Noted Medium." The article states that:
...Mrs. Lincoln had come west to Chicago, in 1871 with her son Robert. The tragic death of her husband, and later, her son..."Tad" who died in 1871, had so broken her heart that she was ready to accept any circumstance which would put her into contact, as she believed, with her loved and lost. What contacts she made with the spirit world she made, or what comfort she received was never divulged...The article does not explain any of the details of the trance-like state that Mrs. Howard would induce. Supposedly, she would receive messages from beyond and help to settle the minds of those who asked for help. Perhaps Abe himself sent a message through Caroline Howard to make his presence known. Unfortunately for Mrs. Lincoln, her son, Robert, institutionalized her in the Batavia Asylum shortly after the visit to St. Charles.
During her time in town, she stayed in close contact with some community members. Several families are stated as receiving mementos from Mrs. Lincoln.
...During her stay here, Mrs. Lincoln became friends with Mrs. Sarah Bunker, a daughter of Mrs. Howard and gave her a number of presents which were prized. She also made Mrs. Joel Goodell a gift which is still a prized memento in the family.
The late Geo. Minard frequently mentioned to the writer, his recollections of Mrs. Lincoln while here. His father, Ira Minard, had been in legislature and knew the Lincoln family at Springfield. He overheard his father and Mrs. Lincoln in conversation as she would stop to talk to him in front of the Minard home...
Apparently, although there is no existing evidence, it is safe to say that Mrs. Lincoln did in fact visit a medium in St. Charles and did stay at the Howard House.
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