The Spiritualist Who Warned Lincoln Was Also Booth’s Drinking Buddy

What did Charles Colchester know and when did he know it?

(Frank Stockton)
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Meanwhile, Colchester made mischief at the White House. Having gained Mary’s trust, he demanded that she get him a free railroad pass from the War Department. Colchester made clear that she would do it or he would make public some very embarrassing facts he had learned during their sittings. Frantic, Mary disclosed the blackmail attempt to Noah Brooks, a member of the president’s inner circle.

Brooks decided to confront the scoundrel. He attended a Colchester séance where everyone sat holding hands around a table on which a drum, a banjo and a bell had been placed. When the lights were extinguished, music began to play from the instruments. Breaking his hands free, Brooks grasped in the direction of the sound and cracked his head on something hard. He held his grip, however, and when a friend struck a match, Colchester’s hand, holding a bell and the drum that had left a gash on Brooks’ head, was in his grasp.

Colchester left the room and refused to return, saying he was “so outraged by this insult.” But Brooks caught up with him at the White House a day or two later and said, “You know that I know you are a swindler and a humbug.” Colchester fled.

In early April 1865, Booth abandoned his plot to kidnap Lincoln to focus on assassinating him. In front of a number of trusted friends in Washington he threatened to kill the president, and one wonders—the record is mute on this point—what Colchester learned of his plans.

That the spiritualist warned Lincoln became clear a few days later. When someone urged the president to be mindful of his safety, he responded, “Colchester has been telling me that.” While warning Lincoln was a stock in trade for mediums, here was one mystic in a position to know what he was talking about. For all his faults, Colchester was the master only of misdemeanor; he had no felony at heart. Lincoln “was too intelligent not to know he was in danger” at times, wrote his secretaries John G. Nicolay and John Hay. “But he had himself so sane a mind and a heart so kindly, even to his enemies, that it was hard for him to believe in a political hatred so deadly as to lead to murder.” He routinely disregarded such warnings, recalled Nettie Colburn, another medium who visited the White House.

When Booth shot Lincoln on April 14, 1865, at Ford’s Theatre, the search for the assassin and his accomplices commenced immediately. Col. Henry H. Wells, a top military policeman, went to the National Hotel to look for information about the actor. Bunker, the room clerk, told him about Booth’s association with Colchester and said the medium had been staying at the Washington House hotel. But Wells couldn’t find Colchester at the Washington, nor anywhere else in the city. Like the spirits he summoned, Colchester had disappeared.

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