Sunday, November 20, 2016

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

After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and his passing on April 14, 1865, Mary Lincoln (Abe's wife) 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 (later known as Ann) and Elizabeth Streets.
In May of 1867 Mary rented her home and moved to the Clifton House at the southeast corner of Wabash and Madison. Later in the same 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, 1871. Robert's house was one block south and two blocks east of the burnt area. He was home with his mother when the fire started. Robert ran out to his law office at 154 Lake Street, in the Marine Bank Building, to try to save what he could which including some of his father's letters. The law office building was burnt to the ground.

Because of all the smoke the neighborhood panicked and rushed to the lakefront to avoid the smoke and fire burning just a block away. It's unclear if Mary stayed at home 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, St. On April 6, 1874, she sold her old home on Washington Street.

The Grand Central Hotel, Chicago, Illinois
Just 10 years after President 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 were never truly reconciled.
NOTE: All Chicago addresses in this story are before the 1909 & 1911 Chicago street renaming and renumbering to today's standard. See all three original documents in my Digital Research Library of Illinois History®. 
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)


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