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Strange Tales of American Presidents and the Paranormal

It seems that brushes with the paranormal and the world of the weird can happen to anyone at anytime. People of all ages and from all walks of life have had experiences with things that lie beyond their understanding, leaving them baffled and in wonder of what lies beyond the veil of what we think we know. Certainly some odd accounts have come even from our leaders and people in great power, and U.S. presidents over the ages have not been immune to strange encounters and tales of the paranormal. Here are a few of the more bizarre stories of American presidents and their experiences with that strange world beyond our comprehension.

One very well-known strange story concerning an American president lies within the world of cryptozoology, and revolves around none other than the 26th president and consummate outdoorsman and naturalist Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Known for forging himself into a tough as nails, swaggering man’s man from his earlier years as a rather sickly child, Roosevelt was also quite famous for his array of daring pastimes, such as boxing, hiking, hunting, and others, and also was in the military leading his own cavalry unit that was instrumental from driving the Spanish from Cuba, and this all helped to mold his image as the ultimate tough guy. Considering his adventurous lifestyle and outdoor excursions, it is perhaps no surprise that the popular Roosevelt has over the years accumulated about himself a rather larger than life image, with numerous rumors and legends associated with him, and yes some have to do with none other than the North American mysterious creature called Bigfoot.

Theodore Roosevelt

Many of the wilder claims over the years have been that Roosevelt indeed saw Bigfoot or even shot one, but these are mostly relegated to urban legends that have no evidence and are never mentioned in Roosevelt’s own writings. However, there is a rather interesting and very bizarre encounter with Bigfoot that was once related to Roosevelt and which appears within his 1893 book The Wilderness Hunter. The book is for the most part just a collection of stories, anecdotes, and various accounts of hunters and outdoorsmen, and is for the most part not connected in any way to anything particularly paranormal or outlandish, yet sitting there amongst the other tales is one that stands out as being quite odd indeed.

Roosevelt claimed that the story had been told to him by a mysterious individual named “Bauman,” with nothing else at all to illuminate his identity other than that he was a hunter and of German ancestry. According to the book, the man had an encounter at the Beaverhead Mountains, on the border of Montana and Idaho, with what is referred to as a “goblin,” the best term Roosevelt could come up with when the word “Bigfoot” had not been invented yet. The account is as curious as it is harrowing, and Roosevelt would write of the frightening tale:

I once listened to a goblin story which rather impressed me. It was told by a grizzled, weather-beaten old mountain hunter, named Bauman, who was born and had passed all his life on the frontier. He must have believed what he said, for he could hardly repress a shudder at certain points of the tale; but he was of German ancestry, and in childhood had doubtless been saturated with all kinds of ghost and goblin lore, so that many fearsome superstitions were latent in his mind; besides, he knew well the stories told by the Indian medicine men in their winter camps, of the snow-walkers, and the spectres, and the formless evil beings that haunt the forest depths, and dog and waylay the lonely wanderer who after nightfall passes through the regions where they lurk; and it may be that when overcome by the horror of the fate that befell his friend, and when oppressed by the awful dread of the unknown, he grew to attribute, both at the time and still more in remembrance, weird and elfin traits to what was merely some abnormally wicked and cunning wild beast; but whether this was so or not, no man can say.

 

When the event occurred Bauman was still a young man, and was trapping with a partner among the mountains dividing the forks of Salmon from the head of Wisdom River. Not having had much luck he and his partner determined to go up into a particularly wild and lonely pass through which ran a small stream said to contain many Beaver. The pass had an evil reputation, because the year before a solitary hunter who had wandered into it was there slain, seemingly by a wild beast, the half-eaten remains being afterwards found by some mining prospectors who had passed his camp only the night before.

The report explains how Bauman and his companion kept finding huge footprints of some beast in the forest, and that they could at times hear “a harsh, grating, long-drawn moan, a peculiarly sinister sound.” They soon came under the impression that something was following them through the trees, perhaps even stalking them, and on two occasions their camp was supposedly ransacked by the unseen beast. They at first took it to be a bear, but soon realized that the tracks were from something bipedal and very un-bearlike, and that the hulking form was larger than a mere bear. Then the account reaches a crescendo when Bauman claims that they were actually attacked by the creature, which killed his friend by breaking his neck and leaving “four great fang marks in the throat.”

While it is a spectacular report indeed, and a rare violent Bigfoot encounter, Roosevelt pretty much just leaves it at that. There is no further mention of this account anywhere else, no way to identify who Bauman is, and there is not even really any deep reflection on whether there is any truth to it all or not. Roosevelt simply throws out his “goblin story” and moves on, without giving us any real hint as to what he personally thinks of it all or even whether he was even being serious or not. We are left with a second hand account with very little verifiable information and so it is just an anomaly in an otherwise straight and grounded book. Indeed, Roosevelt was not one to really go into fantastical stories of the paranormal, and once wrote:

Frontiersmen are not, as a rule, apt to be very superstitious. They lead lives too hard and practical, and have too little imagination in things spiritual and supernatural. I have heard but few ghost stories while living on the frontier, and these few were of a perfectly commonplace and conventional type.

What the creature was, the identity of Bauman, and whether Roosevelt ever believed any of it or not are probably bound to remain mysteries, but it is a curious case nevertheless. Other brushes with the presidency and the paranormal are more up close and personal. The famed 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, had more than his share of encounters with the world beyond our senses during his presidency from 1861 to 1865. For one, he is reported to have had potent nightmares that predicted his own death. One night it is reported that Lincoln dreamed that he had woken to the sound of a crying, lamenting crowd, who told him in the dream that they were sad because their president had just passed away. On another occasion, the night before his assassination in fact, he is said to have related a dream in which he was upon a ship “sailing toward a dark and indefinite shore.” Were these dreams prophetic in nature?

Abraham Lincoln

Even more bizarre still was the time that Lincoln encountered something quite paranormal on his own election day. On the very day of his election in 1860, just after he had been told that he was now president of the United States, Lincoln had apparently been sitting on a sofa at home when he looked into a full length mirror and saw himself standing there within it, only oddly with two faces, one paler than the other, cast over with an almost deathly pallor. Startled and a bit unsettled, Lincoln had then stood up to approach the mirror and the apparition had promptly vanished. The rather disconcerted president sat back down on the sofa only for his own, creepy two-faced visage to materialize within the mirror once again.

The incident would disturb Lincoln, who went on to tell his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, about it. A few days later, the mysterious doppelgänger in the mirror would appear again, and Lincoln’s wife became increasingly convinced that it was a portent of bad things to come, and that it all meant he would be elected to a second term but would not live through it. The spooky incident was written of in a book by Noah Brooks, who claimed to have heard it first-hand from Lincoln himself, and who wrote about it in his Washington in Lincoln’s Time (1895). President Abraham Lincoln would indeed die one month into his second term, just as his wife had predicted and feared.

This sounds very much like he saw his own doppelgänger, which according to lore is never a good thing. The word doppelgänger originally derives from the German phrase meaning “double goer,” and rather than denoting one who simply bears a striking resemblance to another, the origin of the word is steeped in the world of the strange, sinister, and supernatural. The myths and legends orbiting the doppelgänger phenomenon are varied. In some traditions they were considered to be shadow selves; ghostly twins that follow their owners around and which all of us possess, although they rarely make themselves known. These shadow beings were often said to be nefarious harbingers or portents of bad luck, hardship, illness, disaster, and death, and it was never thought to be a good thing if one were to see their own doppelgänger. In other traditions, the doppelgänger is a supernatural entity such as a spirit or demon, which takes the form of a person for inscrutable purposes, and other tales describe them as a physical manifestation of a person’s spirit, a sort of extension of them given form in the physical world. So did Lincoln see his, and did it work its grim magic upon him? Who knows? Interestingly, Lincoln’s ghost has become one of the more commonly seen apparitions in the supposedly very haunted White House.

Speaking of the haunted White House, we also have the 33rd president of the United Sates, Harry Truman, who was convinced that the place was intensely haunted. The White House has long had a reputation for exhibiting various paranormal phenomena, including the aforementioned Lincoln’s ghost, but Truman actually was the only president to directly confront these rumors with his own report. He would at one time in 1946 write a letter to his wife explaining one of these encounters, saying:

I slept well but hot, and some mosquitoes bit my hands and face. Night before last I went to bed at nine o’clock after shutting all my doors. At four o’clock I was awakened by three distinct knocks on my bedroom door. I jumped up and put on my bathrobe, opened the door, and no one there. Went out and looked up and down the hall, looked into your room and Margie’s. Still no one. Went back to bed after locking the doors and there were footsteps in your room whose door I’d left open. Jumped and looked and no one there! The damned place is haunted sure as shootin’. Secret service said not even a watchman was up here at that hour.

Although there are numerous reports of ghostly phenomena at the White House this is a rare first hand account from the president himself. Finally we come to a rather odd and anomalous report linked to the 17th president of the United States, Andrew Johnson, who actually inherited the presidency from Lincoln after his tragic, untimely death. In 1933 there was a particularly odd account in a book by the legendary Charles Fort called Wild Talents, that held with some rather mysterious details. According to the book, Johnson once pardoned a man in 1867 who had been charged with killing two sailors and drinking their blood, played up as being an actual real vampire, and who apparently said as much himself.

It sounds rather wild, and it turns out it came from a 1892 newspaper article in the the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which identified the perpetrator as being a Portuguese sailor named James Brown, who was described as being “a vampire and living on human blood.” However, although this report has been embraced by the paranormal world for years, there was some skepticism cast upon it by a researcher named Robert Damon Schneck, who devoted a good amount of time trying to uncover the truth behind the tale, and who wrote a whole book on it and similar cases called The President’s Vampire. According to Schneck, in the original report Brown had indeed been real, and had really killed one sailor and had his sentence commuted to life in prison from the death penalty by Johnson, but that the original case had included no talk of vampires, double murders, or drinking blood, with these elements added in with the newspaper article. It is his suspicion that the Daily Eagle had gotten a bit creative with the tale and embellished it quite a bit. Nevertheless, the story of president Johnson pardoning an actual vampire has stuck in the lore and will probably stay there for some time to come.

Here we have looked at some of the kookier and spookier tales from American presidents that remain rather off the radar and off the record of their official dealings. It is uncertain of whether any of this is true or not, but it is an intriguing peek into a lesser known realm of the presidency, and an eye opening reminder that all is not always as it seems on the surface and that anyone can have these brushes with the unknown. No matter how odd you may think any president is, just remember that there is always the possibility that that is just the surface, and that stranger things still lie beneath it all.