Sometimes paranormal phenomena can orbit even the highest levels of society and the most powerful people in the world. U.S. presidents have a long tradition of having oddness surround them, not only politically, but concerning the world of the unexplained as well. Here we will look at some cases that concern presidents and strange predictions and prophecies that hint at powers beyond our understanding.
Perhaps the most well-known story of a president and a prophecy concerns none other than the first president of the United States, George Washington. In 1877, Washington was at Valley Forge, about 20 miles northwest of British-occupied Philadelphia, after having lost a string of battles and skirmishes against the British forces during the Revolutionary War. They had retreated there to recoup and keep an eye on the British, who had just taken Philadelphia from them. Conditions were horrific, with biting cold, diminishing supplies, and sickness due to disease, exposure, and starvation, and there was little sign of any help coming. As the men died and starved out there in the frigid cold, morale was about as low as it could be, and one tired and beaten down soldier would write in a letter of the situation at Valley Forge and the sense of anguish and hoplessness:
For some days past, there has been little less, than a famine in camp. A part of the army has been a week, without any kind of flesh, and the rest for three or four days. Naked and starving as they are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery, that they have not been ere this excited by their sufferings, to a general mutiny or dispersion. Strong symptoms, however, discontent have appeared in particular instances; and nothing but the most acitive efforts every where can long avert so shocking a catastrophe.
Our present sufferings are not all. There is no foundation laid for any adequate relief hereafter. All the magazines provided in the States of New Jersey, Pensylvania, Delaware and Maryland, and all the immediate additional supplies they seem capable of affording, will not be sufficient to support the army more than a month longer, if so long. Very little been done to the Eastward, and as little to the Southward; and whatever we have a right to expect from those quarters, must necessarily be very remote; and is indeed more precarious, than could be wished. When the forementioned supplies are exhausted, what a terrible crisis must ensue, unless all the energy of the Continent is exerted to provide a timely remedy?
It was during this hell on earth that an Anthony Sherman, who claimed to have been an aide to George Washington, would claim that he had overheard a curious exchange between the president and an officer in his army. At the time Washington was known to go off into the woods by himself to seek solace and pray, and it would seem that on this day his prayers were answered. Sherman would claim that Washington had come back from one of his trips into the woods, and this time he had seemed to be disheveled and upset, in rather a flustered state, his face a shade paler than usual, going to his quarters and remaining there by himself for most of the day. When he finally emerged he called for one of his officers as Sherman stood by, and would relate what had happened that day out in the forest. Allegedly, Washington would say of what happened thusly:
This afternoon, as I was sitting at this table engaged in preparing a dispatch, something seemed to disturb me. Looking up, I beheld standing opposite me a singularly beautiful female. So astonished was I, for I had given strict orders not to be disturbed, that it was some moments before I found language to inquire the cause of her presence. A second, a third and even a fourth time did I repeat my question, but received no answer from my mysterious visitor except a slight raising of her eyes. By this time I felt strange sensations spreading through me. I would have risen but the riveted gaze of the being before me rendered volition impossible. I assayed once more to address her, but my tongue had become useless, as though it had become paralyzed.
A new influence, mysterious, potent, irresistible, took possession of me. All I could do was to gaze steadily, vacantly at my unknown visitor. Gradually the surrounding atmosphere seemed as if it had become filled with sensations, and luminous. Everything about me seemed to rarefy, the mysterious visitor herself becoming more airy and yet more distinct to my sight than before. I now began to feel as one dying, or rather to experience the sensations which I have sometimes imagined accompany dissolution. I did not think, I did not reason, I did not move; all were alike impossible. I was only conscious of gazing fixedly, vacantly at my companion. Presently I heard a voice saying, "Son of the Republic, look and learn," while at the same time my visitor extended her arm eastwardly, I now beheld a heavy white vapor at some distance rising fold upon fold. This gradually dissipated, and I looked upon a stranger scene. Before me lay spread out in one vast plain all the countries of the world — Europe, Asia, Africa and America. I saw rolling and tossing between Europe and America the billows of the Atlantic, and between Asia and America lay the Pacific.
"Son of the Republic," said the same mysterious voice as before, "look and learn." At that moment I beheld a dark, shadowy being, like an angel, standing or rather floating in mid-air, between Europe and America. Dipping water out of the ocean in the hollow of each hand, he sprinkled some upon America with his right hand, while with his left hand he cast some on Europe. Immediately a cloud raised from these countries, and joined in mid-ocean. For a while it remained stationary, and then moved slowly westward, until it enveloped America in its murky folds. Sharp flashes of lightning gleamed through it at intervals, and I heard the smothered groans and cries of the American people.
A second time the angel dipped water from the ocean, and sprinkled it out as before. The dark cloud was then drawn back to the ocean, in whose heaving billows in sank from view. A third time I heard the mysterious voice saying, "Son of the Republic, look and learn," I cast my eyes upon America and beheld villages and towns and cities springing up one after another until the whole land from the Atlantic to the Pacific was dotted with them.
Again, I heard the mysterious voice say, "Son of the Republic, the end of the century cometh, look and learn." At this the dark shadowy angel turned his face southward, and from Africa I saw an ill omened specter approach our land. It flitted slowly over every town and city of the latter. The inhabitants presently set themselves in battle array against each other. As I continued looking I saw a bright angel, on whose brow rested a crown of light, on which was traced the word "Union," bearing the American flag which he placed between the divided nation, and said, "Remember ye are brethren." Instantly, the inhabitants, casting from them their weapons became friends once more, and united around the National Standard.
And again I heard the mysterious voice saying "Son of the Republic, look and learn." At this the dark, shadowy angel placed a trumpet to his mouth, and blew three distinct blasts; and taking water from the ocean, he sprinkled it upon Europe, Asia and Africa. Then my eyes beheld a fearful scene: From each of these countries arose thick, black clouds that were soon joined into one. Throughout this mass there gleamed a dark red light by which I saw hordes of armed men, who, moving with the cloud, marched by land and sailed by sea to America. Our country was enveloped in this volume of cloud, and I saw these vast armies devastate the whole county and burn the villages, towns and cities that I beheld springing up. As my ears listened to the thundering of the cannon, clashing of sword, and the shouts and cries of millions in mortal combat, I heard again the mysterious voice saying, "Son of the Republic, look and learn" When the voice had ceased, the dark shadowy angel placed his trumpet once more to his mouth, and blew a long and fearful blast. "Instantly a light as of a thousand suns shone down from above me, and pierced and broke into fragments the dark cloud which enveloped America. At the same moment the angel upon whose head still shone the word Union, and who bore our national flag in one hand and a sword in the other, descended from the heavens attended by legions of white spirits. These immediately joined the inhabitants of America, who I perceived were will nigh overcome, but who immediately taking courage again, closed up their broken ranks and renewed the battle.
Again, amid the fearful noise of the conflict, I heard the mysterious voice saying, "Son of the Republic, look and learn." As the voice ceased, the shadowy angel for the last time dipped water from the ocean and sprinkled it upon America. Instantly the dark cloud rolled back, together with the armies it had brought, leaving the inhabitants of the land victorious! Then once more I beheld the villages, towns and cities springing up where I had seen them before, while the bright angel, planting the azure standard he had brought in the midst of them, cried with a loud voice: "While the stars remain, and the heavens send down dew upon the earth, so long shall the Union last." And taking from his brow the crown on which blazoned the word "Union," he placed it upon the Standard while the people, kneeling down, said, "Amen."
The scene instantly began to fade and dissolve, and I at last saw nothing but the rising, curling vapor I at first beheld. This also disappearing, I found myself once more gazing upon the mysterious visitor, who, in the same voice I had heard before, said, "Son of the Republic, what you have seen is thus interpreted: Three great perils will come upon the Republic. The most fearful is the third, but in this greatest conflict the whole world united shall not prevail against her. Let every child of the Republic learn to live for his God, his land and the Union." With these words the vision vanished, and I started from my seat and felt that I had seen a vision wherein had been shown to me the birth, progress, and destiny of the United States.
Did George Washington really encounter an angel and receive these prophetic visions? The story is popular lore but has long been dismissed by most serious historians. One of the problems is that the account was written about by a Philadelphia journalist named Charles Alexander. who published The Soldier’s Casket, a periodical for Union veterans of the Civil War, and who was rather well-known for writing entertaining stories of various famous people having bouts of clairvoyance or prophetic dreams, including Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and many others. He also dabbled in tales of the supernatural, such as soldiers who had gained strange powers and even a demonic woman in the British Army who had defected to the Confederacy, with each article seemingly more fantastical than the last. Although these stories were routinely published in legitimate newspapers and presented as real accounts, it is now thought that most of them, if not all of them, were pure fiction made up by Alexander on slow news days, as was quite common in the papers of the time. It was Alexander who claimed that Sherman had first come to him and told him the story, so it is unclear whether Sherman even ever really existed at all. Alexander never explicitly stated that the story about Washington and the angel was fictional or bogus, but it seems likely. Did Washington really meet an angel at Valley Forge? There is no way to know for sure.
President Abraham Lincoln supposedly had several prophetic visions of his own death. One of these was told by a man named Ward Hill Lamon, who was Lincoln’s former law partner, friend and sometime bodyguard. According to Lamon, Lincoln had confided in him about a very strange dream he had had some days before, in which he had seen his own death. Lamon would dictate what Lincoln told him, and according to him the president said:
About ten days ago I retired very late. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a deathlike 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. I arrived at the East Room. 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 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.'
A few days after telling Lamon this story, on April 14, 1865, Lincoln was shot by a Southern sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, in the back of the head as he watched Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater and he would die the next day. It can’t be confirmed that Lincoln ever really did tell Lamon this, and Lamon would not tell the story until 20 years after the president’s death, but it is a spooky tale all the same, and Lincoln was known to be into dream interpretation and to believe that dreams held a mysterious power to tell the future so it fits in a way. Indeed, Lincoln claimed to have had many strange dreams during his presidency that he believed to be predictive in nature. Adding to the weirdness of it all is that Lincoln allegedly also told his bodyguard, William H. Crook, about having these dreams for three nights in a row, and when leaving the White House on that fateful trip to the Ford Theater he supposedly bid him, “Goodbye,” instead of his characteristic, “Good night.” Spooky.
Whether the story is true or not, this was not the only time that president Lincoln supposedly predicted his own death. Perhaps 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?
Our next tale begins with a 56-year-old German woman by the name of Ollie Burgadine, a mother of 14 children from Mariposa, Illinois, who in 1903 allegedly had a vision of an angel, who had come to her to tell her that the president at the time, Theodore Roosevelt, was going to die by being “blown up.” At the time she telegrammed the white house to warn them, but got no response, probably because they thought she was a kook. The following year, in 1904 she had been spending time with her sister in Baltimore when another visitation from the same angel. This time the angel seemed angry with her for not making more of an urgent effort to warn the president of his incoming doom, so this time it forced her to physically go to the White House. On August 1st, 1904, Burgadine marched up to the White House to tell the president and was promptly arrested. A report on the incident in The Cincinnati Enquirer reads:
Washington, August. 1 The second “crank” that has visited the White House since the President’s return last Thursday called to-day in the person of Mrs. Burgadine, a German over 50 years of age. She said her home was in Mariposa, Ill., but that she had been spending some time with a sister in Baltimore.
"I have come to warn the President,” she told a White House office, “That he is in danger of his life. I have had a vision in which an angel appeared to me and directed me to warn the President. I didn’t find out from the angel just what is going to be done to the President, but I know he is not going to be shot. The angel intimated that he is to be blown up. I telegraphed the President a year ago that if he went to Chicago he would be killed, but he went anyway. The spirit has appeared to me again, more angry than ever before, and has warned me that I must let the President know the danger.”
Mrs. Burgadine was told by the detective that the President had an office in the Treasury to listen to just such warnings and he would take her over to the proper officials. He escorted her to the Secret Service office in the Treasury, and she was gratified to know that her warnings had been told to people who would at once convey it to the President. Mrs. Burgadine said she was the mother of 14 children, and she had a photograph of the family with her.
She must have averted the disaster or the angel was wrong, because Roosevelt was never blown up, but rather died of a pulmonary embolism January 6th, 1919. What I find really weird about this story is not so much that an angel came to this random person’s house to warn of the president’s death, but rather the mention of an office in the White House set up to specifically listen to such warnings. Does that mean warnings of a prophetic nature, or just warnings in general? The article doesn’t really make it clear. All of these cases add a sort of unique spin on these great men, but it is hard to know if any of it is true. Is there anything to this all or is this just tall tales built up around these figures from history? It is all a pretty damn strange set of historical oddities no matter what the case may be.