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  • Lincoln’s Prophetic Dream June 23, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Beachcombing has been having some troubling dreams of trails of gold sovereigns in the snow and a Babylonian Mother Goddess called Lindsey. This got him thinking of famous historical dreams and he settled, for today’s post, on a classic – Lincoln’s dream of his own death.

    Now, as all good Americans know, 14 April 1865 is the day Lincoln was shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth. However, just two weeks before – the date seems to have been early April – Lincoln had a nightmare that anticipated this event and that comes to us from his bodyguard and dear friend, Lamon.

    About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room [in the Whitehouse]; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers ‘The President’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which awoke me from my dream.

    Lincoln’s wife became understandably upset at this point and Lincoln jested the dream away.

    It is a nice question whether or, perhaps better, to what extent we should trust the account given here. Lamon does not have the best reputation among Lincoln’s biographers. Was, for example, the detail about the East Room – where Lincoln was later laid out – ‘remembered’ afterwards to make the correspondence with actual events more impressive?

    Then, if we take, as perhaps we must, the essential theme of the dream as a given, was this prophecy or coincidence? Early April 1865 was the absolute climax of the war: 9 April Lee took his longest ride to Appomattox Court House where U.S. Grant was waiting for him; while on the day of his assassination Lincoln asked constantly about Johnston’s expected surrender.

    Perhaps the dream then was no more than a little subconscious flotsam cast up on the strand of waking. Lincoln – an exhausted man by April 1865 – had, after all, given four years of his life to the Civil War. His ‘death’ was the death of his old self with the end of the conflict that had defined his presidency: perhaps if the dream assassin had been discovered it would have been Lincoln himself.

    Lincoln was, some days later, to tell Grant (while at the cabinet table!) about a vivid maritime dream that presaged, he believed, Union success. It is a pity we don’t know how Lincoln interpreted the assassination dream.

    Any other ‘historical’ dreams – prophetic or otherwise? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com