Churchill’s Ersatz Meeting with Lincoln’s Ghost

Churchill’s Ersatz Meeting with Lincoln’s Ghost

The ques­tion aris­es: Was Churchill, on one of his vis­its to the White House, spooked by the ghost of Abra­ham Lincoln?

Fred­er­ick N. Ras­mussen of the Bal­ti­more Sun, an admir­er of Sir Win­ston, told a sto­ry years ago, which has just float­ed back. Ever a fan of spooks, gob­lins, and Things That Go Bump in the Night, I was intrigued to receive a ques­tion on Churchill and the super­nat­ur­al. Ras­mussen wrote:
Experts in the field of spec­tral phe­nom­e­na claim that Mary­land and Wash­ing­ton are rich in sight­ings…. A ghost sto­ry dat­ing to the Civ­il War that has per­sist­ed through the years is that of repeat­ed appear­ances of Abra­ham Lin­coln, who has been seen stand­ing in a win­dow of the White House star­ing toward Vir­ginia, as he had done often dur­ing the war. Even Churchill, who thought noth­ing of tak­ing on Hitler and Mus­soli­ni, was not hap­py when assigned to the Lin­coln Bed­room. Quite often, he was found in a vacant bed­room across the hall the next morning.
There are end­less Lin­coln ghost sto­ries. Churchill’s encounter would have occurred dur­ing one of his stays in the White House dur­ing World War II. But his daugh­ter, Lady Soames, told me he was not eas­i­ly spooked. “He didn’t real­ly believe in appari­tions.” An excep­tion was his con­fronta­tion with the ghost of his father in his 1947 short sto­ry, The Dream. But Lady Soames sug­gest­ed: “In that case, his fan­cy was released by the image of his father.”

Naked encounter?

Wikipedia offers a vari­a­tion of Churchill meet­ing Lin­coln in its entry on Lincoln’s ghost. The accom­pa­ny­ing foot­note ref­er­ences Mar­jorie B. Gar­ber, Pro­fil­ing Shake­speare, Rout­ledge, 2008:
British Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill loved to retire late, take a long, hot bath while drink­ing a Scotch, smoke a cig­ar and relax. On this occa­sion, he climbed out of the bath and, naked but for his cig­ar, walked into the adjoin­ing bed­room. He was star­tled to see Lin­coln stand­ing by the fire­place in the room, lean­ing on the man­tle. Churchill, always quick on the uptake, sim­ply took his cig­ar out of his mouth, tapped the ash off the end, and said “Good evening, Mr. Pres­i­dent. You seem to have me at a dis­ad­van­tage.” Lin­coln smiled soft­ly, as if laugh­ing, and dis­ap­peared. Churchill smiled in embarrassment.
This Lin­coln sto­ry strikes me as a con­fla­tion of Churchill’s famous ​naked encounter with Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt (which appar­ent­ly did hap­pen). “The Prime Min­is­ter of Great Britain has noth­ing to hide from the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States,” Churchill report­ed­ly said.
Sur­mis­ing that a Lin­coln schol­ar would tell us appari­tions of Lin­coln have been sight­ed in the White House years before Churchill, I referred the ques­tion to Lewis Lehrman, author of Lin­coln ‘by lit­tles’ and the mas­ter­ful Lin­coln and Churchill: States­men at WarMr. Lehrman offered three references:

Lincoln Bedroom

Eleanor Roo­sevelt arranged for Churchill to stay in the Lin­coln Bed­room. It was “the favorite of most male guests,” recalled J. B. West, the chief ush­er. But upon his arrival on 22 Decem­ber [1941], the prime min­is­ter reject­ed the bed, so he wan­dered the sec­ond floor, “tried out all the beds and final­ly select­ed the Rose Suite,” where SDR [Sara Delano Roo­sevelt] and the Queen [Eliz­a­beth the Queen Moth­er]  had resided.  —Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roo­sevelt, Vol­ume III, 409.

Mrs. Roo­sevelt had arranged for [Churchill] to stay in the Lin­coln Bed­room, then locat­ed off the West Hall, the favorite of most male guests. How­ev­er, he didn’t like the bed, so he tried out all the beds and final­ly select­ed the Rose Suite at the end of the sec­ond floor.  —J. B. West & Mary Lynn Kotz, Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies.

When Eleanor showed Churchill to the Lin­coln Bed­room (not then as famous as it was to become dur­ing the Clin­tons’ occu­pan­cy of the White House), he turned it down, claim­ing the bed did not suit him. Mak­ing him­self at home from the start, Churchill then looked over the oth­er avail­able rooms. Alert as ever to oppor­tu­ni­ties, he chose a bed­room across the hall from Har­ry Hop­kins’ almost per­ma­nent rooms, the Rose Room on the sec­ond floor, where Queen Eliz­a­beth had slept on her on her 1939 vis­it with King George VI. —Cita Stelz­er, Din­ner with Churchill: Pol­i­cy-Mak­ing at the Din­ner Table.

Reality

It is true, writes Mr. Lehrman, “that Har­ry Hop­kins had been occu­py­ing the so-called Lin­coln Suite (inac­cu­rate­ly dubbed the Lin­coln Bed­room) since 1940. Mr. Churchill was hap­py with the Rose Suite, as it was direct­ly across the hall from Hop­kins. It would seem that the pow­ers that be in the White House at that time thought Mr. Churchill so impor­tant that they showed him the Lin­coln Bed­room out of def­er­ence, Hop­kins notwith­stand­ing. For­tu­nate­ly, it seems Mr. Churchill did not like the bed, thus no cause for dis­turb­ing Hop­kins. Churchill was more than sat­is­fied with the Rose Suite, imme­di­ate­ly across the hall from Hop­kins, pri­mar­i­ly because it gave him imme­di­ate access to Hop­kins, with whom he already had a very spe­cial relationship.”

So, unless the ghost of Mr. Lin­coln was in the habit of switch­ing rooms, he is unlike­ly to have appeared in Churchill’s bed­room. Even less like­ly did the appari­tion appear as Churchill was emerg­ing from his bath. By the way, his baths though fre­quent did not occur late at night. The Lin­coln Bed­room wasn’t so named until 1961. Before then it was the “Blue Suite.” Lin­coln used it as a study, not a bed­room. Accord­ing to the White House Muse­um the bed­room fur­ni­ture was moved in by Pres­i­dent Tru­man in 1945.

3 thoughts on “Churchill’s Ersatz Meeting with Lincoln’s Ghost

  1. If Churchill ever said he met Lincoln’s ghost I have no doubt that he did meet it. His meet­ing with his dead father’s ghost is also most like­ly not a dream. I saw my own father twelve years after his death and some 4000 miles from home, when he stood before me in, the suit and tie he often wore, and smiled at me build­ing a house in Europe. It was around 6pm in sum­mer. For almost five min­utes his ghost stood there. I asked if God real­ly exist­ed I now know that He is our Mak­er and loves us all. I tell you this as a need to know that we are all of us spirits.

  2. “And the Lin­coln Bed­room didn’t get its offi­cial name until 1961. Before then it was the “Blue Suite,” although of course every­one knew it had been Lincoln’s.”

    In fact, it was nev­er Lincoln’s bed­room; it was an office dur­ing Lincoln’s admin­is­tra­tion. It was dubbed the Lin­coln Bed­room because the room is fur­nished with Lincoln’s bed, which I believe was installed by Jacque­line Kennedy when she refur­bished the White House.

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