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Mock trial finds

Mary Todd Lincoln was not insane

Re-enactment at presidential museum finds former first lady wrongfully committed

By Jason Nevel

Posted Oct 01, 2012 @ 10:44 PM


Jurors in 1875 made the wrong choice in committing Mary Todd Lincoln to a mental institution, a retrial of the famous case found Monday.

The re-enactment was held at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, with area judges serving as attorneys arguing for and against the widow of President Lincoln. The audience served as the jury.

In 1875, the nation’s former first lady was judged insane during a trial in Chicago and ordered to a Batavia sanitarium. She obtained an early release, and, one year later, another jury found her sane.

First Lady Mary Lincon

For more than 100 years, historians have debated whether there was enough evidence to ever commit Mrs. Lincoln to an institution. In Monday’s event, actors in period costumes portrayed Mary Todd Lincoln and her son Robert Lincoln, who filed the petition to have his mother involuntarily committed. The retrial lasted more than two hours.

The vote on whether to institutionalize the troubled first lady was 68 for and 159 against. A similar retrial was held Sept. 24 in Chicago. Audience members there also overwhelmingly disagreed with the initial verdict.

Beth Pendergast, a Springfield audience member, said she believed there was enough to prove Mary Todd Lincoln was insane based on her erratic behavior.

Historical accounts describe Mary Todd Lincoln as slowly going insane after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the death of three sons. However, some people argue Robert Lincoln was trying to protect the family’s reputation.

To open up the trial, Robert Lincoln, portrayed by Zach Kenney of Chicago, was questioned by a lawyer portrayed by Ronald Spears, a circuit judge in Christian County.

Robert Lincoln said his mother, for unknown reasons, thought he was ill and traveled from Florida to Chicago to see him. On the train ride there, she said someone tried to poison her coffee and steal her purse, he said.

While staying at a hotel in Chicago, Robert Lincoln further testified that his mother thought the city of Chicago was on fire, she could hear voices through the walls, and his mother thought he was going to kill her. There was also testimony about Mrs. Lincoln’s spending habits.

Having her committed was for her safety, Robert Lincoln said.

“I want to protect her and provide her the treatment she needs,” he said.

Mrs. Lincoln’s defense said she feared for Robert Lincoln’s safety because her three other sons had died of illness. Her actions were motivated by her desire to protect her surviving son, her lawyer said.

Actress Sally Field as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln

Hear the Silent Speak – A Civil War 150th Anniversary Educational Experience

History buffs, teachers, students, genealogists, and the curious alike are invited to visit “Hear the Silent Speak,” a free Civil War Sesquicentennial living history event hosted by Dayton’s Major General W. T. Sherman Camp 93 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War:

1-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7 in the Grand Army of the Republic Veterans Section of Historic Woodland Cemetery, 118 Woodland Avenue, Dayton 45409.

Bob Koogler as President Lincoln

Along with a display of Civil War equipment and performances of 19th century music, living historians will share information concerning some known and little known War Between the States 1861-65 soldiers, sailors and citizens. Among them, Colonel Hiram Strong who commanded Montgomery County’s 93rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Chaplain William Earnshaw who was National Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic veterans organization 1879-1880, and Private George Washington Fair, the soldier atop Dayton’s Civil War Monument downtown.

There will be a wreath-laying ceremony in the G.A.R. Section at 1 p.m., a guided tour of veteran’s grave sites at 2 p.m., and a Civil War music concert at 3 p.m. A President Lincoln re-enactor (Bob Koogler) will deliver and discuss the Emancipation Proclamation at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m.

The event, sanctioned by the Ohio Historical Society CW150 Committee and the Lincoln Society of
Dayton, is associated with Discover Historic Woodland Day Oct. 7. From the Cemetery’s front gate at 1:30. 2:30, and 3:30 p.m., Woodland volunteers will conduct guided tours to grave sites of famous Daytonians including Erma Bombeck, the Wright Brothers, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and other historic people buried in the cemetery.

For more information concerning Hear the Silent Speak, email Sherman Camp at .

For more information concerning Historic Woodland Days, telephone Woodland Cemetery at
937.228.3221or go to

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October 2012
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