Historian, actress discusses Mary Lincoln’s spiritualism


By Lark Lewis

Locals were able to learn more about Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, through stories of her involvement with spiritualism Monday at the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St.

To bring Women’s History Month to a close, actress and historian Valerie Gugala discussed Mary Todd Lincoln as a spiritualist. Gugala said she has spent her life researching the Lincoln family and has been performing as Mary Lincoln for almost 20 years.

“I’m just fascinated by her and the times,” Gugala said. “Since I portray her sometimes, I always want to learn as much as I can to make that as realistic as I can.”

Gugala has performed across the Chicagoland area as Mary Lincoln, but on Tuesday she came to DeKalb not to perform but to tell about Lincoln’s secret séances.

Gugala said after Lincoln’s son Willie passed, Abraham Lincoln felt like he was still able to connect with their son. Mary Lincoln inquired about mediums and frequently held séances in the White House, where the couple thought they were able to communicate with their deceased son.

Later in her life, Lincoln’s love for spiritualism haunted her. After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, phony mediums pursued her with false claims of being in contact with him.

Monday was not the first time Gugala has been to the DeKalb Public Library, as it was one of the first places Gugala performed.

“I like to have, at least once a year, a program connected to the Civil War because it’s a topic people really enjoy,” said Edith Craig, DeKalb Public Library public relations coordinator. “Val had done programs with us before, so she was a natural [choice].”

Gugala’s presentation was welcomed by a 12-person group of fellow Lincoln enthusiasts who were grateful this program came to DeKalb.

“I just find the topic of Mary Todd and spiritualism interesting,” said DeKalb resident Kelli Sinclair. “I’m fascinated by mental health and how the world saw her.”

From her years studying Mary Lincoln, Gugala has one simple message about the famous first lady she said she wants everyone to know.

“She is most misunderstood about being insane,” Gugala said. “I do not believe she was insane at all.”