Psychics And Such At the White House: Franklin Pierce

Some may think that there has never been a formal séance held in the White House for the President and/or First Lady. Some presume that only Abraham Lincoln attended a séance, and that was for his wife (and that it happened only once). Most, I believe, would be surprised that numerous Presidents and First Ladies have had psychics and participated in psychic readings in the White House. The first well documented case of a séance being held at the White House is around 1854, not long after the election of President Franklin Pierce.

Franklin Pierce was elected during a difficult time for the United States, and under personal tragic circumstances.

President Franklin Pierce

President Franklin Pierce

The conflict between the slave states and the abolitionists was heating up. Pierce was a reluctant President, being selected as a ‘dark horse’, a compromise candidate at the Democratic convention. His wife, Jane Appleton Pierce, openly stated that she prayed that her husband would not be elected. The death of 2 of 3 of their children was enough of a burden to carry without adding the stress and responsibilities of being President and First Lady. Nonetheless, Franklin Pierce was elected 14th President, largely on his believe that slavery should be allowed to continue. Then, tragedy struck again. Just prior to Franklin Pierce being elected, He and his wife lost their 3rd and last child, Bennie, was killed in a train accident witness by both Mr. and Mrs. Pierce.

In 1854, the country was reaching a boiling point over slavery. Violence had already broken out in the Kansas and Nebraska.

First Lady Jane And Benjamin

First Lady Jane Pierce And Benjamin

And, the proposed Kansas-Nebraska Act (which set the stage to allow the expansion of slavery into the West) would only bring increased violence and conflict. In these turbulent times a new form of spirituality had begun to captured the attention of Americans. It was called Spiritualism and this new spirituality held that communication with the those who had died was possible. There was a ‘spirit world’ beyond this material world where friends, relatives, everyone, would travel in spirit after death. The Fox Sisters, Kate and Margaret Fox, had become the focal point for this Spiritualist movement.

Just before the inauguration of President Pierce, First Lady Jane Pierce arranged a meeting with Maggie Fox to see a demonstration of her supernatural skill. Jane Pierce was desperate to reconnect with her lost children, particularly Bennie. Some have wondered if Jane Pierce was testing Maggie Fox in order to ascertain if she should be invited to the White House to hold a formal séance. There were already rumors flying that the Fox sisters may be faking their famous ghost knocks or spirit knocking. There were also rumors that the Fox sister were considering giving up public displays of their ‘talents’.

Little is known about how this planned meeting turned out. What we do know is that once President and First Lady Pierce took up residence in the White House, Jane Pierce largely withdrew from public life, abdicating her technical responsibilities to Abigail Kent Means and her First Lady social responsibilities to the Vice President’s wife, Varina Howell Davis (who was married to Jefferson Davis, the man who would eventually become President of the Confederate States of America leading to the Civil War over slavery and state’s rights). Jane Pierce ordered permanent mourning bunting for the White House state rooms. Then, she disappeared into the upstairs rooms of the White House where she held séances and worked on spirit communication with her lost children. Soon, First Lady Jane Pierce became known as ‘Shadow in the White House’.

Little is known what took place in those upstairs rooms where Jane Pierce mourned and worked on spirit contact. It is unknown if President Pierce ever attended any of the séances held by his wife. Some say that Jane Pierce did eventually make spirit contact with her children. There are reports that Jane Pierce could be heard playing with her lost children when, and if, they appeared before her. Jane Pierce blamed her husband for the death of their last child, Bennie, but for a strange reason. She felt Bennie had been taken from her and Franklin Pierce to allow him to focus on his Presidential duties. This blame weighed heavy on President Pierce and he often took to drinking, perhaps to escape both a sense of guilt and growing difficulties of the U.S. over slavery.

Though some may have considered Jane Pierce a woman who had ‘gone over the edge’, this was not the assessment of those who knew her. Varina Howell Davis, who was handling the social duties of the First Lady, often defended Jane Pierce saying that there was far more substance to the woman than most would ever know. President Pierce clearly adored his wife and worked to understand her grief, spiritual pursuits and needs. Franklin Pierce was considered a devote Christian, and Jane Pierce was the daughter of a minister of the Congregational Church. Her father also became President of Bowdoin College. This was a couple who had deep spiritual underpinning and those private conversations in the White House about life after death, the spirit world and so forth must have be quite interesting … but we will never know.

After two years of intense privacy in the upstairs White House rooms, Jane Pierce reemerged and began to assume some of her First Lady responsibilities.

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She rarely publicly discussed her pursuits involving spirit contact and continued to protect her personal, private life. To all appearances, President Franklin Pierce and his First Lady managed to continue remaining close, even as Jane Pierce’s health continued to worsen from tuberculosis and she was carried from the White House at the end of Franklin Pierce’s Presidency. Despite Jane Pierce’s lack of activities involving Washington politics, she may have made one significant, historical contribution: She arranged the first known séances in the White House.

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