When America Saw Ghosts

Stefany Anne Golberg considers the rise of Spiritualism in the antebellum North:

Spiritualists fit weirdly in the story of America, less because of what Spiritualists believed than who the Spiritualists were: physicians, scientists, writers, politicians, industrialists — white, prominent, educated, wealthy, Protestant. Though men were its primary defenders, women dominated Spiritualism — mediums were mostly female. A medium’s power was more than political; the ghosts made her practically divine. (Divine and also wealthy. Mary Andrews earned $1,000 a week in her séance heyday; her husband was happy to encourage her.) Spiritualism spoke to America’s so-called enlightened, in other words, those in charge of America’s public conscience. …

When Mary Todd Lincoln moved into the White House she said she saw ghosts everywhere. She set up a room in the Presidential home for séances just a year before the Civil War’s start and the transformation of the country was sealed.

By the end of the Civil War in 1865, half of Americans were ghosts, and Spiritualism went mainstream.