Although Mary Lincoln believed in the power of Ouija boards to foretell the future, and consulted astrological magazines as well, she held no faith in the power of dreams to predict imminent events.
In fact, when President Lincoln often turned solemn and fearful when he awoke from dreams with dark conclusions, she laughingly dismissed it as ridiculous.
Not so six of her fellow First Ladies, three of whom also left the White House as presidential widows, two of whom had premonitions about their husbands being in danger, and one that had extra-sensory experiences related to the potential death of a president other than her own husband.
Julia Gardiner Tyler was no stranger to the supernatural world. As a former First Lady she sponsored an evening of “levitation, magnetic powers, and the conjuring up of spirits from the great beyond.”
She watched in fascination as a slave seamstress levitated a table. “Instead of being terrified, I was very glad I witnessed what is, without a doubt the magnetic influence of the body – and not supernatural agency.”
It was in the power of premonitory dreaming, however, that Mrs. Tyler herself possessed.
One night, while at the James River plantation she shared with her husband and their seven children, she was terrified of a dream she had of him, by now a former president, serving in the Confederate House of Representatives. She imagined him in his room in Richmond’s Exchange Hotel, unable to breathe, holding his necktie.
She told several people about this and decided she had to get to him, to see that he was alright. She made the trip to Richmond, relieved that he was well. She returned home.
Two days later, John Tyler died exactly as she had dreamed he would.
Some twenty-seven years later, Julia Tyler was visiting Richmond and rented a suite at the Exchange Hotel. She died there too, that very night.
Primary source documents in the hand of First Lady Peggy Taylor seems to have been largely obliterated.
Despite the fact that she led a full but secluded life on the second floor of the White House during her husband’s presidency, there remain no notes or letters, barely an autograph.
There is one direct quote attributed to her, however, recalled for the record by a loyal family friend some years after the former First Lady’s death, which she uttered when her husband, Zachary Taylor, the heralded general of the Mexican War, was nominated for the presidency: “It is a plot to deprive me of his company, and to shorten his life.”
Just who was behind what she believed was some kind of conspiracy to kill him, she never said.
Sixteen months into his presidency, however, her prediction proved correct. President Taylor died of a sudden stomach disorder in July of 1850.
Peggy Taylor was so hysterical at his deathbed by how quickly his spirit seemed to leave his suddenly inanimate body that she refused to at first believe this.
His corpse was placed on to stay preserved until the burial could take place, but three times Mrs. Taylor asked that he be taken off the ice so she could be certain he really was dead.
From their earliest days together, Julia Dent not only believed that her husband Ulysses S. Grant would go on to enjoy a triumphant life of success and public acclaim: she also believed the audible yet invisible voice which assured her of this during their most dire days of struggle.
Faith in this premonitory voice would not only save her husband’s life but change the course of history.
Just six days after her husband, by then the Union Army leader, had signed the peace treaty ending the Civil War, Julia Grant refused the invitation of the President and Mrs. Lincoln to join them on one of their many nights at the theater. The reason went deeper than the rivalry between the two women.
Earlier that day, Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant was seated in the back of her carriage, negotiating the muddy streets of Washington when a man riding his horse in the opposite direction neared and looked into her vehicle, staring at her with a menacing glance. It left her spooked and unsettled.
As if she were some sort of good luck charm, Julia Grant had made the effort to live in camp with her husband.
From the time he took charge of the Union Army, Ulysses S,. Grant had received any number of threats on his life, yet had emerged unharmed. He’d managed to get through a life on the battlefield as if protected. The war was now over.
Grant was now becoming a national celebrity, which Julia insisted was the ordained path of his fate. She reveled in the cheers and applause with which he was met by the masses at public events.
And yet, despite the promise of enormous adulation from a theater full of admirers who were likely to give Grant a standing ovation along with Lincoln when they entered the presidential box, she felt compelled to obey her inner sense that some type of danger was imminent and must be avoided.
Both the General and his wife did long for some private time alone with their children, then staying with relatives in New Jersey; it also provided Julia Grant with an acceptable reason for refusing the honor of being seated with the President and Mrs. Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865.
The Grants were already well on their way to New Jersey that night as the Lincolns arrive at Ford’s Theater to see the play Our American Cousins. It was later learned that the conspirators who assassinated the President that night believed Grant was to have also been there – and had every intention of murdering him too.
During her husband’s presidency, Ida McKinley was distorted into the caricature of a Victorian invalid who needed his perpetual protection, a useful tale which made William McKinley a “martyr” and won him votes on sentimentality.
In truth, Ida McKinley was vigilant in her protection of him.
During the Spanish-American War when he stopped taking even carriage rides and went without sleep, she conspired with his staff to remedy this, terrified of the affect on his health.
At times, she panicked that he was tempting fate by his refusal to be guarded, based on his somewhat arrogant presumption that nobody would ever wish to harm him, despite the many world leaders who were being murdered at the time by a global network of anarchists.
A regular reader of astrological journals, it was easy for her to become further agitated when she inadvertently came across articles predicting situations where President McKinley might be harmed.
Yet, Ida McKinley’s premonition dated from before her husband was elected President in 1896. On the night of his election victory, while he was surrounded by jubilant friends and family, several noticed how “greatly distressed” she was.
Her friends later told reporter Edna Colman that “they were satisfied she had a premonition of his fate.” Embarrassed by her dark mood, McKinley made light of it, chuckling, “This little woman is always afraid someone is going to harm her husband.”
Ida McKinley yelled back at him in front of all their guests, “Oh, Major, they will kill you, they will kill you!”
History’s later casting of Ida McKinley as behaving with irrational demands on her husband date from eyewitness accounts during the period he was planning a run for a second term. Having come to nearly the end of his first term without harm, she argued more stridently and reacted with overt hostility towards his intention, angrily frustrated at him for tempting fate by seeking a second term.
Forced to accept his decision or essentially forgo any further public role as First Lady, she acquiesced.
Still, as the first summer of his second term waned and Ida McKinley prepared to leave the restful privacy of their home in Canton, Ohio and journey with the President for his anticipated visit to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, her premonitions of five years earlier returned.
Her nurse admitted to the press at the time that it was “strange” just how intensely Mrs. McKinley objected to attending the exposition, yet “gave no reason for not wishing to go.”
Among the few examples of Ida McKinley’s handwriting are some lines she scribbled in a 1901 diary book her husband had given her as a New Year’s Day gift. She had barely used it.
Yet, some sense was strong enough to compel her to record her feelings as they readied to leave Canton for Buffalo.
As she wrote in the entry for September 1: “I wish we were not going away from home.”
The President and Mrs. McKinley nevertheless left Canton and arrived in Buffalo on September 4. Two days later her husband was shot. He died eight days later, just as Ida McKinley had always sensed he would be.
By the night of August 2, 1923, Edith Wilson had been out of the White House for two and half years.
She had managed to help craft a false front for the public that her husband, the President, had only been suffering from “nervous exhaustion” upon returning from a cross-country speaking tour by train.
Of course, he had suffered a major debilitating stroke.
Keeping his as rested as possible while working with his physicians, she also successfully managed his presidency by approving routine matters and maintaining the myth that he was fully in charge.
She was lucky to further manage to get him out of the White House alive, the day his successor Warren Harding was sworn in on March 4, 1921.
Yet she knew how fragile her husband really was, and her grave concern for his survival only intensified.
That night, however, Edith Wilson was overwhelmed with what she called an inexplicable feeling of “something ominous hanging over us.”
She went to bed, but remained there for only a few hours. The former First Lady was soon awakened by the cries of newspaper boys on the street, who shouted out the headline news that President Harding had died.
Curiously, on the afternoon of April 12, 1945, Edith Wilson was with the incumbent First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, making a joint appearance at a fundraising tea at the Sulgrave Club of Washington.
While seated beside her predecessor, a club butler whispered to Mrs. Roosevelt that a call had come in from the White House, asking that she return there at once.
Eleanor Roosevelt never claimed she had the power of extra-sensory perception but she did state for the record that in that moment, she had a visceral foreboding.
With American and Allied military forces tightening the grip on the Axis during World War II on two fronts, any military move being made at the time could have proven decisive or disastrous.
Having visited what would prove to be nearly ten percent of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in European and the Pacific bases, she was acutely conscious of wartime death.
She kept up on the fate of the sons of many friends and relatives, always fearful of a report that one had been killed in combat.
She also had all four of her sons on active duty at the front. Any one of them might well be killed.
This was not what troubled her, however.
“I got into the car and sat with clenched hands all the way to the White House,” she recalled. “In my heart of hearts, I knew what had happened.”
She was right.
Her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died.