Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mary Todd Lincoln - In the midst of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire.

After John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln on April 14, 1865, at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., and his passing on Saturday, April 15, 1865, Mary Lincoln departed Washington by train to Chicago to live with Tad (son) in the Tremont House. 

Later Mary moved to the Hyde Park Hotel, but in 1866 she purchased a home at 375 W. Washington in Chicago. This home was located between Willard (Ann Street) and Elizabeth Streets.

In May of 1867, Mary rented her house and moved into the Clifton House at the southeast corner of Wabash and Madison. Later that year, Mary moved back to her old neighborhood and lived at 460 W. Washington, across the street from Union Park. Again in 1868, Mary stayed at the Clifton House.

In May of 1871, after spending several years in Europe, Mary and Tad returned to Chicago and lived with son Robert at his home at 653 South Wabash Avenue (today's address on the 1200 block of South Wabash Avenue). She soon moved out and was back at the Clifton House. Tad died in the Clifton House on Saturday morning, July 15, 1871, after a long illness he contracted in Europe. 

Mary Lincoln was staying at Robert Lincoln's house on Wabash Avenue when the Chicago Fire began on October 8, 1871Robert's house was just one block south and two blocks east of the burnt area

Robert and Mary were home when the fire started. Robert ran outside, to try to get to his law office located at 154 Lake Street in the Marine Bank Building, to save what he could. But when he managed to get there, the building was already burnt to the ground. Lost forever was some of his father's letters and other keepsakes.

Because of the thick, choking smoke, neighbors panicked and rushed to the lakefront to avoid the smoke and fire which was burning just a block away. It's unclear if Mary stayed in Robert's house or if she went with neighbors to the lakefront. Both Mary and Robert survived as did Robert's house.

In 1874 Mary was living at the new Grand Central Hotel on LaSalle, Street. On April 6, 1874, she sold her old home on Washington Street.

The Grand Central Hotel, Chicago, Illinois
Just 10 years after Lincoln's assassination, his widow, Mary, was charged with insanity and put on trial in Chicago. The accuser was her only surviving son, Robert Lincoln. The trial was held on May 19, 1875, and she had received no prior warning or chance to organize a defense. The jury deliberated for only 10 minutes, then she was institutionalized at Bellevue Place Asylum in Batavia, Illinois. Mary was released after less than 4 months but mother and son never reconciled.
NOTE: All Chicago addresses in this story are before the 1909 & 1911 Chicago street renaming and renumbering to today's standard.

     1909 Chicago Street Renaming Document
     1909 Chicago Street Renumbering Document 
     1911 Chicago Downtown Street Renumbering Document

A must-read: An in-depth account of Mary Ann Todd Lincoln's life.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. Why did she move so much? I've heard the stories of mental health issues. I wonder if any of these houses still stand today.

    1. None of those homes mentioned in the article still exist but Robert Lincoln's home on N State Parkway does still stand

  2. Yes she did have mental issues. In fact I j6st gathered info for a post.

  3. I'm from Chicago;I saw Robert Lincoln's home as a little kid- before it was torn down... in 1959! A high rise condo building occupies the lot now, Don M....just sayin'!

  4. The Bellevue Place is in Batavia, IL. There is a historical marker on Route 31 to pinpoint its location. (south of Main Street on your way to Mooseheart)

  5. Interesting. I knew she had mental issues, but I did not know she was estranged from her son, Robert.


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