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Mary Todd Lincoln goes back to court

Mary Todd Lincoln widow president Abraham Lincoln was patient Bellevue Sanitarium Bataviduring 1870s.

Mary Todd Lincoln, widow of president Abraham Lincoln, was a patient at the Bellevue Sanitarium in Batavia during the 1870s.

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The retrials of Mary Todd Lincoln

What: Using modern laws, “retrials” will examine whether Mary Todd Lincoln should have been judged insane and ordered held at the Bellevue Sanitarium in Batavia.

When: Sept. 24 at Murphy Auditorium in Chicago; Oct. 1 at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield

Tickets: Auditorium seating filled; auxiliary seats available for $15 at

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Updated: October 18, 2012 6:04AM

Was Mary Todd Lincoln really insane? The troubled former First Lady, who was judged insane at an 1875 Chicago trial and ordered to a sanitarium in Batavia, will get another day in court.

The Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum are sponsoring a pair of “retrials” for the former first lady using modern laws.

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.

The retrials are scheduled for Sept. 24 in Chicago and Oct. 1 in Springfield. Auditorium seating for both events is no longer available. But an additional 100 auxiliary seats at both the Chicago and Springfield events are available, allowing patrons to see live video of the retrials projected on a large screen. Thee auxiliary tickets are $15 each and may be reserved through the event website,

The agencies are also working on details of possible broadcasts of the retrials, which would let a much wider audience to view the proceedings.

Time in Batavia

Mary Todd Lincoln was tried in 1875 at the instigation of her son Robert on allegations of insanity. She ultimately was declared a “lunatic” and placed in the Bellevue Sanitarium in Batavia.

Mary Lincoln obtained an early release from Bellevue with the assistance of a 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.

Audience as jury

The retrials will take place at Chicago’s Murphy Auditorium at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 24 and at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 1.

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.

Judge Maureen Connors of the 2nd Division of the First District Appellate Court will be the presiding judge at the Chicago retrial, while Michael P. McCuskey, chief judge in the Central District of Illinois, will serve at the Springfield retrial. Also taking part in the retrials will be other judges, law professors, other judges and psychiatrists. Broadcast journalist Bill Kurtis will be the narrator for the Chicago event, while former Gov. Jim Edgar will narrate the Springfield program.

Springfield resident Pam Brown will portray Mary Todd Lincoln at both retrials. Brown has portrayed the former First Lady in several 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 several Chicago area productions at the Steppenwolf, Goodman, TimeLine and other Chicago theaters.

The retrials are part of a year-long series of events marking Mary Todd Lincoln’s life and emphasizing the evolution of mental health laws in Illinois. Funds raised will be used for the preservation of historic documents owned by the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum the Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission.

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