The Frank and Virginia Williams Lecture Series: Terry Alford

November 3, 2022
2:00 pm to 3:30 pm

About this event

Join us for a lecture from Terry Alford, the author of "In the Houses of their Dead: The Lincolns, the Booths, and the Spirits."

Two families, one at the nation's political summit and one at its theatrical, were bound together in the Civil War period by their fascination with spiritualism. Abraham and Mary Lincoln turned to the seance table when their son Willie Lincoln died in 1862. Edwin Booth, together with his brother John Wilkes, were similarly attracted to the otherworld by the death of Edwin's wife Mary Devlin in 1863. Although there were many mediums in the country, the number of distinguished intermediaries to the other side was limited, and the two families shared several of the most gifted ones. No medium was more controversial than Charles J. Colchester, who astounded the Lincolns with his powers. At the same time, he was an intimate friend of John Wilkes Booth. Colchester repeatedly warned Lincoln to take care of himself. Would the president, who received many such warnings over the years, finally listen to the one that mattered?

Alford received a Ph.D. in history from Mississippi State University and did post-doctoral work in family history at the University of California, Davis. His interest in the history of race relations led to his writing "Prince Among Slaves." This book tells the story of Abdul Rahman, an 18th Century Muslim prince from modern-day Guinea who was captured and sold into slavery in the Old South. "Prince Among Slaves" was made into an award-winning documentary shown on public television in the U.S. in 2008 to an audience of over 4 million viewers. The book, republished in 2007 to mark its 30th anniversary in print, was recently translated into Turkish.

Alford is a founding board member of the Abraham Lincoln Institute of Washington, D.C., and is a recognized authority on Booth and the assassination of Lincoln. Alford makes frequent appearances on television programs and networks, such as "20/20," "ABC News," C-SPAN, BBC and PBS. "Fortune’s Fool," Alford’s biography of Booth, was published in 2015 by Oxford University Press and has received exceptional reviews. His research endeavors have been supported by four grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has been an historical consultant on a number of films and documentaries, including Stephen Spielberg’s "Lincoln," starring Daniel Day-Lewis. He also serves as a member of the Advisory Council for Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. His latest book is "In the Houses of their Dead: The Lincolns, the Booths, and the Spirits," published this year to strongly positive reviews. David Adams in "Publishers Weekly" called it "enthralling ... packed with eerie coincidences, amusing anecdotes, momentous twists of fate and everyday human drama."

Alford received the Outstanding Faculty of Virginia Award from the State Council on Higher Education. This is the highest teaching honor given to college and university faculty in the Commonwealth of Virginia.


John Grisham Room, Mitchell Memorial Library
Primary Sponsoring Organization
MSU Libraries
Contact Name
Lynda Graham
Contact Phone