Brandt & Hochman Agency
Published by
Liveright (2022-06-14)
Current material
2nd Pass Pages
Original language
Politics & government


The Lincolns, the Booths, and the Spirits

by Alford, Terry

The story of Abraham Lincoln as it has never been told before: through the strange, even otherworldly, points of contact between his family and that of the man who killed him, John Wilkes Booth.

In the 1820s, two families, unknown to each other, worked on farms in the American wilderness. It seemed unlikely that the families would ever meet - and yet, they did. The son of one family, the famed actor John Wilkes Booth, killed the son of the other, President Abraham Lincoln, in the most significant assassination in American history. The murder, however, did not come without warning - in fact, it had been foretold.

In the Houses of Their Dead is the first book of the many thousands written about Lincoln to focus on the president's fascination with Spiritualism, and to demonstrate how it linked him, uncannily, to the man who would kill him. Abraham Lincoln is usually seen as a rational, empirically-minded man, yet as acclaimed scholar and biographer Terry Alford reveals, he was also deeply superstitious and drawn to the irrational. Like millions of other Americans, including the Booths, Lincoln and his wife, Mary, suffered repeated personal tragedies, and turned for solace to Spiritualism, a new practice sweeping the nation that held that the dead were nearby and could be contacted by the living. Remarkably, the Lincolns and the Booths even used the same mediums, including Charles Colchester, a specialist in "blood writing" whom Mary first brought to her husband, and who warned the president after listening to the ravings of another of his clients, John Wilkes Booth.

Alford's expansive, richly-textured chronicle follows the two families across the nineteenth century, uncovering new facts and stories about Abraham and Mary while drawing indelible portraits of the Booths - from patriarch Julius, a famous actor in his own right, to brother Edwin, the most talented member of the family and a man who feared peacock feathers, to their confidant Adam Badeau, who would become, strangely, the ghostwriter for President Ulysses S. Grant. At every turn, Alford shows that despite the progress of the age - the glass hypodermic syringe, electromagnetic induction, and much more - death remained ever-present, and thus it was only rational for millions of Americans, from the president on down, to cling to beliefs that seem anything but. A novelistic narrative of two exceptional American families set against the convulsions their times, In the Houses of Their Dead ultimately leads us to consider how ghost stories helped shape the nation.

Terry Alford is an author, historian, and professor emeritus at Northern Virginia Community College. He is the author of Fortune's Fool, a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, and Prince Among Slaves, among other books. He lives in Annandale, Virginia.

Available rights (1)

Language Territory Type Vendor Status
German World All

Mohrbooks Literary Agency
Sebastian Ritscher

Available View on Rightsdesk


Packed with eerie coincidences, amusing anecdotes, momentous twists of fate, and everyday human drama, In the Houses of Their Dead brings to mind a work of art that hangs on Alford's living room wall.

Review: Publishers Weekly

If there is a more fascinating and eerie book on the strange but true side of Lincoln's world, I have not read it. Here is Lincoln in the Bardo - for real. You couldn't make it up - necromancers, mad actors, frauds, true believers, and, in the middle, the greatest President.

Quote: Sidney Blumenthal, author of The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln

The slaughter of the Civil War coincided with a wave of popular belief that the spirits of the dead dwell just a shadow away. In this beautifully wrought work of history - not fiction - Terry Alford places Abraham Lincoln and his murderer inside the web of American spiritualism, in ways that will startle you as well as instruct.

Quote: Sean Wilentz, author of No Property in Man

Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth take long walks together in the afterlife! We are in no position to marvel at the things our forebears managed to believe, but, through the lens of spiritualism circa the Civil War, In the Houses of Their Dead shows these famous families - the Booths and the Lincolns - in a new and fascinating light. With his customary meticulous scholarship and his uncanny ability to rediscover what's been forgotten, Terry Alford has written yet another lively, often surprising and always enjoyable masterwork.

Quote: Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling novelist

While shedding a bright and welcome light on Lincoln's curiosity about spiritualism (a subject inadequately covered by previous historians), Terry Alford's highly readable, entertaining book also illuminates the many parallels between the families of the sixteenth president and his assassin. Based on unusually thorough research and written with droll wit, this work, chock-full of amusing anecdotes and colorful character sketches, serves as a worthy companion to the author's outstanding biography of John Wilkes Booth.

Quote: Michael Burlingame, author of An American Marriage: The Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd

If religious faith offered the promise of heavenly reunion with the deceased, not everyone who lived through the Civil War wanted to wait that long. Now Terry Alford brings us into the realm of nineteenth-century spiritualism, a world inhabited by the families of the president and his assassin alike. Whether communion with the dead was a matter of deceit, delirium, derangement, or consolation - or simply inexplicable - Alford illuminates these very personal experiences with admirable sensitivity and empathy.

Quote: Martha Hodes, author of Mourning Lincoln

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