LiveAuctionTalk.com: Highlights Mary Todd Lincoln Letter on the Death of Her Son Rosemary McKittrick's weekly columns bring the people and the objects in the world of collecting to life. They are always informative, lively, and well written. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.
March 19, 2006--Mary Todd Lincoln sat by her son’s bedside and watched his labored breathing. The delicate, blue-eyed, Willie was her favorite and she could see him growing weaker.
On good days Willie rarely left her side. Curled up in a chair with pencil and paper in hand or reading a book, the 11-year-old spent long, leisurely afternoons next to his doting mother.
Mrs. Lincoln said Willie was the child who would be the hope and stay of her old age. She could see now, she was wrong. When Willie finally did pass away in 1862 of typhoid fever, Mrs. Lincoln was so distraught she couldn’t attend the funeral.
“God called his beautiful spirit home,” wrote Elizabeth Keckley, the black servant who cared for the boy. “He lay with eyes closed--his brown hair parted as we had known it--pale in the slumber of death; but otherwise unchanged.”
A six-page, autographed letter signed by Mary Todd Lincoln to her good friend and neighbor Julia Ann Spriggs in Springfield, Ill., surfaced at Sotheby’s New York on June 16.
Written on mourning stationary and dated May 29, 1862, three months after Willie’s death, the letter offers intimate insight into Mary’s frame of mind. She writes to Julia.
“What would I give to see and talk to you, in our crushing bereavement, if any one’s presence could afford comfort, it would be yours,” Mary said.
“…when the blow came, it found us so unprepared to meet it,” she added. “All that human skill could do, was done for our sainted boy…One so pure, was not to remain long here.”
By 1862, Washington’s population had gone from 60,000 to 200,000. The area’s overly taxed sewage lines also broke draining into the Potomac.
The Whitehouse got its water from the contaminated river. Huge outbreaks of typhoid resulted all over Washington, D.C. Willie was one of many casualties.
“When I think over his short but happy childhood, how much comfort, he always was to me, and how fearfully I always found my hopes concentrating on so good a boy as he was…my question to myself is, ‘can life be endured,’” Mary added.
Offered for sale in the Fine Books and Manuscripts sale, the letter brought $18,000.
LiveAuctionTalk.com author Rosemary McKittrick has been writing weekly about the art, antiques and collectibles field for 16 years. McKittrick is co-author of “The Official Price Guide to Fine Art,” a 1000-page book published by Random House and co-author of four volumes of “McKittrick’s Art Price Guide.”