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This article is taken from PN Review 223, Volume 41 Number 5, May - June 2015.

Pictures from a Library 20:
William Mumler’s Portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln
Stella Halkyard

William Mumler’s photographic portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln <br> with the spirit portrait of President Abraham Lincoln, 1870s.

William Mumler’s photographic portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln with the spirit portrait of President Abraham Lincoln, 1870s.                     

The format of the photograph shown here is known as a carte de visite. Bearing the portrait of a relative, friend or acquaintance, these early photographs were eagerly acquired and circulated within the drawing-room culture of middle-class Victorian homes. Left as visiting cards, they were collected and preserved in albums. The famous carte from the 1870s shown here, however, records a visitation of a different kind. Instead of using the newly invented medium of photography as a means to capture the likeness of a living person, the purpose of this image is to delineate the features of the spirit of the dearly departed from the Other Side.                     

Here we are confronted by the seated figure of a woman swathed in the trappings of full mourning, weighed down by grief in widow’s weeds. Behind her we are shown the diaphanous form of a spirit whose ghostly hands rest on her shoulders in a protective gesture. The apparition’s features, though nebulous, are recognisable as those of Abraham Lincoln and the widow’s features are those of his wife, Mary Todd.                     

Having suffered the untimely deaths of three of her four children and the assignation of her husband, Mary Lincoln’s interest in Spiritualistic practices intensified. Photographs like these were deemed to provide evidence of the spirit ...

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