In addition to wielding a tremendous amount of power and influence, there are a handful of US presidents who believed in the supernatural or had experiences with the occult, welcoming the unknown into the White House. Whether they hoped to contact the spirits of deceased love ones or experienced top-secret psychic phenomenon, some presidents may have had contact with the spirit world. And it's not just presidents from the early years of the US, either - even 21st-century President Bill Clinton made the list. Keep reading to discover the mysterious side of several US presidencies.
While it’s well-known that Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy frequently consulted the astrologist Joan Quigley during his two terms as president, Reagan’s interest in the occult did not stop there. The 40th president was influenced by the writings of Manly P. Hall, a writer, lecturer and mystic best known for his 1928 work The Secret Teachings of All Ages.
Hall was an early icon of the burgeoning metaphysical movement in the 1920s, and it appears that a certain young Hollywood-actor-turned-politician was a fan. Several of Reagan’s essays and speeches appear to reference Hall’s 1944 book The Secret Destiny of America, which describes the mystical significance of the American pursuit of religious freedom and self-governance.
Reagan’s idealistic vision for the country blended perfectly with Manly’s story of divine intervention, and despite his low approval ratings at the time, Reagan’s power of positivity has helped him remain one of the 20th century's most influential presidents.
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The Civil War killed an estimated 620,000 American men, creating an understandable national obsession with supernatural contact. During the wartime presidency of Abraham Lincoln, the White House held quite a few séances organized by his wife Mary Todd. While Abraham was skeptical about these gatherings, he indulged his wife’s interest as she grieved the death of their 11-year-old son.
In a strange twist of fate, one of the mediums who held a séance at the White House did attempt to warn the president of his coming assassination. Charles Cholchester was a popular spiritualist in Washington, and had struck up a friendship with the well-known actor John Wilkes Booth during his stay at the National Hotel. It is believed that Colchester attempted to warn the president of Booth’s plan, but after being exposed at as a charlatan at one of his White House séances, his warning was ignored.
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Jimmy Carter ran on a platform of transparency during his presidential campaign, publicly acknowledging his own UFO sighting that occurred in 1969. This promise was easier said than done and, throughout his term, he remained quiet on the issue due to “defense implications.” Carter did, however, seek a greater awareness of defense operations, and was briefed about Stargate, a secret CIA project that aimed to use psychic abilities to gather foreign intelligence.
During the height of the Cold War, the US intelligence community became interested in rumors of a Russian psychic spy agency and, with help from the Stanford Research Institute, decided to perform their own research and experiments on ESP. Many years after his presidency, Carter disclosed an instance when this psychic “remote viewing” was used to locate a downed plane in Africa. The woman involved in the experiment delivered the exact coordinates of the plane, astounding Carter and challenging his empirical reasoning.
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The Victorian era was a golden age of the séance in the US, and many prominent figures of the time engaged in the Spiritualist movement, hoping to reconnect with deceased loved ones through mediums, spirit communication, and other somewhat questionable practices. When tragedy struck Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States, shortly after his inauguration in 1853, his wife Jane turned to help from the other side to cope with the loss.
Pierce and his family were involved in a train accident that claimed the life of their only remaining son, sending his already morose wife into a tailspin of grief. In her desperation, she contacted the famous spiritualists the Fox Sisters, who conducted a séance at the White House, but it was only a temporary comfort for the mourning first lady. Pierce did all he could to help his wife overcome the loss, but to no avail. The president turned to alcohol to numb his pain, neglecting his duties as Commander-in-Chief and, after he left office, watching helplessly as his country descended into the Civil War.
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