May 29, 2023
Kane County History: Chronicles of Mary Todd Lincoln And The Spiritualism Movement in St. Charles –

Kane County History: Chronicles of Mary Todd Lincoln And The Spiritualism Movement in St. Charles –

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by St. Charles History Museum Director Lindsay Judd. All photos are courtesy of the St. Charles History Museum.

Spiritualists, clairvoyants, and “mediums” became a popular career choice as well as were in high demand at the end of the Civil War due to the thousands of grieving families trying to “connect” with lost loved ones.

Spiritualism and psychic abilities were so much accepted 150 years ago, that by the 1880s, the Universalist Church in St. Charles was converted into the hub of the Spiritualist movement in Illinois.

St. Charles had its very own spiritualist right in town! Caroline Howard and her husband Leonard owned and ran the Howard House, a very popular and lively hotel that hosted guests from all around the country. The building is still standing to this day and serves as apartments at the corner of Illinois and Third streets.

In 1871, a registered guest by the name of “Mrs. May” became the talk of the town. According to verbal reports of the day, Mrs. May was actually the grieving Mary Todd Lincoln, and her purpose for visiting St. Charles was to consult the “most noted medium,” Caroline Howard.

It wasn’t until much later – 1928 and 1936 – that eyewitness retold the story and cited specific details that were printed in the St. Charles Chronicle:

“Mrs. Lincoln had come west to Chicago in 1871 with her son, Robert. The tragic death of her husband, and later, her son “Tad” who died in 1871, has so broken her heart that she was ready to accept any circumstance which would put her into contact, as she believed, with her loved and lost.”

As she walked from Howard House hotel to Mrs. Howard’s residence on 6th Avenue, “Mrs. May” was in close contact with some community members. Several families claimed to have received gifts from Mrs. Lincoln. While this is not for certain, we can still share some of those personal accounts. The St. Charles Chronicle article goes on to say,

“ … During her stay here, Mrs. Lincoln became friends with Mrs. Sarah Bunker, daughter of Mrs. Howard, and gave her a number of presents which were prized. She also made Mrs. Joel Goodell a gift which is still a prized memento of the family. The late Geo. Minard frequently mentioned to this writer, his recollections of Mrs. Lincoln while here. His father, Ira Minard, had been in legislature and knew the Lincoln family in Springfield. He overheard his father and Mrs. Lincoln in conversation as she would stop to talk to him in front of the Minard home …”

Sadly for Mrs. Lincoln, her son Robert had her institutionalized in the Belleview Sanitarium in Batavia after a series of court proceedings that addressed the condition of her mental state.

You can have the chance to not only see Caroline Howard come to life, but also meet her! On Thursday, Oct. 7, the St. Charles History Museum is partnering with the St. Charles Park District for its Mystery History Walking Tour of downtown St. Charles!

Attendees will get to go on a guided tour of historic buildings around downtown and will be accompanied with costumed characters, or as we like to call them, the “Spirits of St. Charles!” Tickets are $21 per person.

There will be a tour group leaving the St. Charles History Museum every half hour starting at 6 p.m. going until 7:30 p.m. Registration for this event is required through the St. Charles Park District:

If you are not able to meet the Spirits of St. Charles during our Mystery History Walking Tour, don’t fret! You can visit the St. Charles History Museum from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8, and Saturday, Oct. 9, to meet and greet the Spirits of St. Charles in celebration of Scarecrow Fest! We will also have some kid-friendly crafts available, including corn husk dolls!

Come join us at the St. Charles History Museum! Our regular visiting hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For information on our events or to learn more about the history of St. Charles, call us at 630/584-6967.

Read The Kane County History Series!

  • 1850-1925 Geneva — When Penmanship Was Mightier Than The Sword
  • St. Charles Museum Site — From Serving Gas To Preserving History
  • Elgin Puts 3,500 Priceless Photos Online
  • Batavia-Inspired Miniatures Thrilled a Nation
  • Aurora’s Maud Powell, World Famous Violinist
  • Waxing Nostalgic on Geneva’s WGSB, WFXW
  • American Doughboys of WWI — in St. Charles, IL
  • Experience High-Tech History at April 21 ‘Open Elgin’ Event
  • Batavia, IL — ‘Windmill Capital of The World’
  • Meet Andy Aurora, Man About Town
  • Celebrating The 50th Anniversary of 9-1-1 in Geneva
  • Blue Goose And Evergreen Pub — ‘Shop Local’ 90 Years In The Making
  • Elgin Is The Apple of Illinois Bicentennial’s Eye
  • Nordens Soner And Batavia’s Swedish Society
  • Aurora’s Melting Pot ‘Yearning To Breathe Free’
  • Candles, Timing Devices, Phonographs And The ‘Life Cup’ — All Things Made in Geneva
  • Hotel Baker, The ‘Masterpiece’ of The Fox Valley
  • Elgin Celebrates Our Once-Burgeoning Dairy Business
  • Reflections of Batavia’s Quarry Beach Pool
  • Aurora’s Mabel O’Donnell, Author of “Alice And Jerry’ Books
  • As Alice (Davis) Says, ‘Schools Out For Summer!’
  • Elgin Watches, ‘The World’s Standard’
  • Aurora Silverplate a Symbol of Good Taste
  • Women Leaders Played Huge Roles in Geneva
  • Nationally Renowned Summer Camp in St. Charles
  • The Harrowing Story of William Lynch, Elgin’s Civil War Brigadier General
  • Batavia Powered The Aurora, Elgin & Chicago Railway
  • Corsets Doing Big Business in Aurora? Scandalous!
  • One Block of Geneva Tells 1,001 Fantastic Stories
  • St. Charles’ Evergreen Pub — The ‘Before’ Photos
  • 1917-18 — When Elgin Artists Went to War
  • Thomas Cleveland — Batavia’s Presidential Connection
  • Do Your Wurst — Aurora Meat Markets Are ‘In’ Again
  • Geneva Is The Place For Graveyards And Ghosts
  • Visit Amelia Anderson At St. Charles’ North Side Cemetery
  • Calling All Artists! … For a Cobblestone Reflection in Elgin
  • Batavia’s 108-Year-Old Gazebo Still Lights The Way
  • The Compelling, Tragic Story of Aurora’s Black WWI Hero Frank Boger
  • Geneva History Museum Invites Artists To Celebrate Cultural Heritage
  • Elgin’s Anson Clark Soared in The Great War … And Life
  • What It Meant To Be a Patrol Boy and Louise White School
  • ‘Men’s Night’ Christmas Shopping Was a 1950’s Aurora Phenomenon
  • St. Charles Remembers Colson’s Christmas-Day Fire of ’33
  • The Art of Elgin’s Cobblestone Reflections
  • When Suffrage Met Prohibition in Batavia
  • Geneva Presents The Art of The Fox River
  • Blansford Astronomical Clock Is Aurora’s Treasure
  • St. Charles Returns Family Heirlooms From WWII
  • Museum Lands Painting By Elgin Artist Albert Kenney
  • Cars Still Fixed at Historic Location in Downtown Batavia
  • A Bird’s-Eye View of 19th Century Geneva
  • Sheldon Peck: Kane County’s Connection To The Underground Railroad
  • Elgin High School Celebrates 150 Years of ‘Education For All’
  • Batavia’s Incredible Roller Skating History
  • The Fabled History of Jewelry Stores in Geneva
  • Astonishing Buried Treasure Discovered in Aurora Outhouse
  • Lincoln Elementary School in St. Charles Celebrates 90 Years of Education
  • Remembering Elgin High Grad, Renowned Composer Daniel Brewbaker, 1951 – 2017
  • Meet Batavia’s Sharron Moran, LPGA Star, ‘Most Beautiful Golfer’ of 1966
  • The Many Iterations of Geneva’s National Food Store
  • The Burlington Zephyr — A ‘Silver Streak’ Through Aurora
  • What IS That Thing in Downtown St. Charles?
  • 18 Events, Limited-Edition Poster For Preservation Month in Elgin!
  • Julius Amandus Anderson’s WWI Memorial Trapunto Banner
  • Geneva’s Swedish Days Celebrates Its 70th Anniversary
  • The Historic Drive To Save Aurora’s GAR Hall
  • The Story of St. Charles’ Paddlewheel Riverboats
  • Meet Elgin’s Legendary Marshal — Andrew Barclay Spurling
  • Jackie DeShannon ‘Put A Little Love’ In Batavia
  • Aurora’s William S. Hart, Cowboy Movie Star
  • St. Charles’ First Settlers, One Lost, Found Again
  • Discover The Elgin Stories All Around You
  • Batavia’s WWI French Connection
  • Amazing Stories Behind Geneva’s Extraordinary Parks
  • Roots Aurora Seeks 2019 Nominations For Aurora Cultural Champions
  • Newly Renovated Thompson Middle School Retains Memories of St. Charles High
  • Elgin’s Bluff City Cemetery Memorializes City’s Past
  • Batavia Connection to 1969 Moon Landing
  • Geneva Company Made Huge Contribution to Art Deco
  • East Vs. West 1914 — Aurora’s Greatest Football Game
  • North, Union Cemeteries Are St. Charles’ Hallowed Grounds 
  • Elgin Temperance Crusaders Take Hatchet To Beer Fans
  • Ever Heard of Clybourneville? (Hint: It’s Now in Batavia)
  • Geneva Ghost Stories Rise From Former Hospital Site
  • Aurora Tells The Cows To Shut Up
  • Baby Face Nelson And 100 Years of St. Charles Boys School ‘Good, Bad And Ugly’
  • Behold The Telegraph, Elgin’s First Digital Communication!
  • Mary Bailey, Batavia’s Trailblazing Woman Lawyer
  • Holiday Traditions, Historic Creche at Geneva History Museum
  • Welcome To Thanksgiving Dinner at Aurora’s Tanner House
  • St. Charles’ Whiskey Bend Signaled Boom Time For Taverns
  • From Elgin Watch Cases To 4.2 Mortar Shells
  • Lorraine James’ Art Leaves Lasting Impression on Batavia
  • Geneva Remembers The Tornado of 1967
  • New Year’s Calling in Aurora
  • Newly Digitized Footage Documents Construction of St. Charles Municipal Building
  • ‘New Year’s Calling’ in Aurora Was The Online Dating of Late 1800s
  • A Woman’s Right To Vote — In Elgin
  • How The Household Journal Came To Batavia
  • Geneva’s East Side — From Dodson To Dog ‘N’ Suds
  • On Leap Year, ‘She-Wolves of Aurora’ Have ‘Gender-Swapping Fun’
  • Mary Todd Lincoln, Batavia Resident
  • The Women Who Broke Codes at Riverbank Labs in Geneva
  • Turn Around in Aurora And You’ll Bump Into a Luxembourger
  • Geneva History Museum Offers COVID-19 Journal
  • Aurora’s Amazing Family Portrait Exhibit ‘A Brilliant Idea’
  • How St. Charles Survived The Spanish Flu in 1918
  • Elgin Epidemics — COVID-19 Is Not The First To Bring Suffering, Sorrow
  • Geneva Museum Passes Milestone
  • Aurora’s African-American Police Officers
  • Garner Family Is St. Charles’ Juneteenth Celebration Story
  • Notable Black Americans From Elgin, IL
  • Black Batavians Played Key Roles in History
  • Geneva History Museum Reveals Archive Redesign
  • Family Secrets — Historian Finds 1866 ‘I Love … ‘ Message Scratched in Tanner House Window
  • Cut Glass Was Booming During Roaring 20s in St. Charles
  • Elgin Remembers Devastating Palm Sunday 1920 Tornadoes
  • Batavians Find Treasure in 150-Year-Old Privies
  • Geneva Hosts Virtual Night at The Museum
  • Visit Aurora’s Tanner House — With a Click of The Mouse
  • Elgin Cemetery Walk Is Virtual Travel Through Time
  • James Prindle Jr.’s Roll Top Desk Returns To Batavia
  • 60 Years Ago, Kennedy Campaigned in Geneva
  • Aurora’s 1894 Central Station Proud Home of Regional Fire Museum
  • Secret Symbolism in Elgin’s Bluff City Cemetery
  • Meet The Doctors Who Shaped St. Charles’ History
  • Batavia Inventor Paul Hassler And His Arithstyle Adding Machine
  • The ‘Background’ on Geneva’s Famous Creche
  • Aurora Soldier’s Diary Reveals Gripping Story of War, Love, Pain And Heroism
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  • Meet Elgin’s Mary Muirhead of The WWI Army Nurse Corps
  • Geneva’s Holiday Giving Tradition Continues Despite Pandemic
  • Remembering The Days When Aurorans Cut Ice on The Fox River
  • Arcada Plans Next Chapter of Its St. Charles Story
  • Christmas Memories in Elgin
  • A Brief History of The Batavia Historical Society
  • Order Your Geneva Home By Mail — Right From the Catalog!
  • Aurora’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Winter of 1918
  • St. Charles’ Response to COVID-19 Sparks Memories of WWII
  • Elgin’s Black Soldiers Proudly Served in U.S. Armed Forces
  • Amazing Stories of Batavia’s Thriving Black Community Date Back To 1855
  • Step Back in Time to See ‘HerStory’ in Geneva
  • Aurora Will Never Forget The Great Flood of 1857
  • When Cars Came To Elgin, Tragedy Followed
  • Batavia’s Female Athletes Fought To Play The Games They Love
  • Take a Tour of Geneva Art History!
  • Play Ball! Hall of Famer Casey Stengel Among the Greats to Round The Bases in Aurora
  • St. Charles History Hustle Pays Homage to Long-Lost Sport of Competitive Walking
  • Elgin’s History Is Written in Street Signs
  • Batavia Museum Finds Treasure in Capt. Carr’s Spyglass
  • Celebrate 185 Years of Kane County Courthouse in Geneva
  • Meet Aurora’s Peerless Publisher, Olive Beaupre Miller
  • Charles Haines — The Man Who Saved St. Charles Schools
  • Elgin’s Perry Thomas — From Inventor to Atomic Bomb Photographer
  • Take Me Out To The (Batavia American Legion) Ballgame
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  • Aviation Began To Take Off at Hoornbeek Airfield in Elgin
  • Kane County History: Good Roads Day! Batavia Was The Starting Link of The Lincoln Highway
  • Geneva Museum Is Reimagined, Reopened — And Admission Is Free!
  • John Rogers’ ‘Council of War’ at Aurora’s Tanner House Museum
  • Today’s Drivers Owe Thanks To Elgin Motor Club
  • 3 Men Behind Batavia’s Fame as ‘Windmill Capital of The World’
  • Grotto on Government Center Campus Is One of Geneva’s Hidden Gems
  • The Boys of Summer, Aurora Style

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