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Mary Lincoln to be retried on insanity charges Sept. 24 and Oct. 1

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[August 24, 2012]  CHICAGO -- Was Mary Todd Lincoln insane? The troubled former first lady, who was judged insane at an 1875 Chicago trial, will get another day in court -- two days, in fact -- as retrials on those charges using modern laws will occur in Chicago on Sept. 24 and in Springfield on Oct. 1. A roster of well-known modern judges will serve as attorneys for the petitioner and respondent, and audience members at each location will decide Mrs. Lincoln's fate after hearing the arguments and testimony.

Auditorium seating for both events is no longer available. However, an additional 100 auxiliary seats are available at both the Chicago and Springfield events, allowing patrons to see live video of the retrials projected on a large screen. Tickets for the auxiliary seating are $15 each and may be reserved through the event website, In addition, details concerning broadcasts of the retrials will be finalized in the near future, allowing a much wider audience to view the proceedings.

The retrials will take place in Chicago's Murphy Auditorium at 50 E. Erie at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 24 and at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 1. The events are produced and sponsored by the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

The retrials of Mary Lincoln will occur in a courtroom setting to give her a hearing using current laws regarding her alleged insanity. The participants will use their own words and strategies to make their cases. Actors portraying Robert Lincoln and Mary Lincoln, in period costume, will testify, as well as an expert witness -- a mental health professional -- for each side. Following instructions to the jurors (the audience), Mrs. Lincoln's fate will be in the hands of those attending each event.

The Hon. Maureen Connors, who serves in the 2nd Division of the 1st District Appellate Court, will be the presiding judge at the Sept. 24 retrial in Chicago. The petitioner, Robert Todd Lincoln, will be represented by the Hon. Warren Wolfson, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at the DePaul University College of Law, and the Hon. Erica Reddick, of the Cook County Circuit Court, Child Protective Division of the Juvenile Court. Mary Todd Lincoln, the respondent, will be represented by the Hon. Lorna Propes, of Cook County Circuit Court, and the Hon. Mark Drummond, Circuit Court judge in Adams County. Expert witnesses will include Dr. Bennett L. Leventhal, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University and an internationally renowned psychiatrist; and Dr. James Cavanaugh, professor of psychiatry at Rush Medical Institute. Famed broadcast journalist Bill Kurtis will be the narrator for the Chicago event.

The presiding judge in the Oct. 1 Springfield retrial will be the Hon. Michael P. McCuskey, chief U.S. district judge for the Central District of Illinois. Representing the petitioner will be the Hon. Ronald D. Spears, circuit court judge in Christian County, and the Hon. M. Carol Pope, appellate court judge for the 4th District of Illinois. The respondent will be represented by the Hon. Lisa Holder White, Macon County circuit judge and the supervising judge for the Criminal Law Division of the 6th Judicial Circuit, and the Hon. R.C. Bollinger, associate circuit judge of the 6th Judicial Circuit in Decatur. Expert witnesses will include Terry Killian, M.D, who has a private practice of general psychiatry in Springfield, and Lawrence Jeckel, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist, forensic psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in Champaign. Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar will narrate the Springfield event.

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Springfield resident Pam Brown will portray Mary Todd Lincoln at both retrials. Brown has portrayed the former first lady in numerous stage productions and in two National Geographic documentaries: "Lincoln's Last Night" and "Secret Lincoln." Chicago actor Zach Kenney will portray Robert Todd Lincoln. He has appeared in numerous Chicago-area productions: at the Steppenwolf, Goodman, Biograph, American Blues, Victory Gardens, and TimeLine theaters.

The retrials are part of a yearlong series of events marking Mrs. Lincoln's life and emphasizing the evolution of mental health laws in Illinois. Funds raised beyond the cost of the events will be used for the preservation of historic documents owned by the sponsoring organizations.

Mrs. Lincoln was tried in 1875 at the instigation of her son Robert on allegations of insanity, which ultimately led to her being declared a "lunatic" and placed in the Bellevue Sanitarium in Batavia. Mary Lincoln obtained an early release from Bellevue with the assistance of her friend Myra Bradwell. One year after the original insanity trial, another jury found her sane, restoring her legal control over her assets. Even today, historians disagree whether the evidence against the first lady was "trumped up," whether the procedures used constituted due process and what would occur if today's modernized health laws were applied to the same facts.

Another event in the series, the "Culture of Clothing," will feature Mary Todd Lincoln's life and fashions as a homemaker, as first lady and as a widow in mourning after the loss of three sons and a husband. This special show will take place on Nov. 12 in the Driehaus Museum in Chicago, where the dresses she had made, the jewelry she wore and the long-lasting elements of design that she created will be used to demonstrate the changing roles of women through fashion. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield will have a similar event on Nov. 19. Tickets are $50 for the Chicago event and $25 for Springfield and must be purchased in advance through Only a limited number of tickets remain for these two events.

A theatrical project bringing the relationship of Mary Lincoln and her advocate, Myra Bradwell, to life will be developed from their correspondence and portrayed by Springfield actors Susan Jeffers and Aasne Vigesaa. Performance dates in Chicago and Springfield will be announced.


The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the nation's largest and most visited presidential library complex, immerses visitors in Lincoln's life and times. The Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission assists the Supreme Court in acquiring, collecting, documenting, preserving and cataloging documents and artifacts important to the history of the Illinois judicial system.

[Text from file received from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency]

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