Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane But for Very Good Reasons/Sufjan Stevens: Illinois Track Six

Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln source Wikipedia
"A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane But for Very Good Reasons" is the reprise at the end of Jacksonville, last weeks post.  It really isn't its own song. It is a brief,  under-a-minute atmospheric piece that Sufjan Stevens titles independently of the previous track. And thus we continue our exploration of Sufjan Stevens epic scale "Illinois" album.

The following short clip has several people commenting on the song. They kind of sum it up.

Who was Mary Todd? Mary Todd was the wife of Abraham Lincoln. She was a raised in Kentucky by a family that were slaveholders. As a young woman, and to escape a troubled relationship with her stepmother, Mary mover to Illinois. While there she met Abe Lincoln and proceeded to marry him. She gave the future president four sons and accompanied him to Washington. Though the term had not yet been termed, she served as First Lady during the Lincoln presidency. During that time it was reported that she suffered frequent migraine headaches and bouts of depression. She was present at Fords Theater when Lincoln was shot and stayed by his side as he died later that evening. Those things alone would be enough to qualify as "very good reason" to go insane. But Mary seemed to have a sort of black cloud hanging over her head. 

It is well recorded that as First Lady she was troubled by frequent migraine headaches as well as depression. Those maladies seem to have continued and intensified after the death of Lincoln. She was not given an automatic pension by the U.S government and had to fight by way of petition to receive a pension for her support after the presidents death. In addition, she had some private letters included in a book written by a confidante. This she viewed as breach of confidence, possibly contributing to a downward spiral.
In 1871, her youngest son, Tad died. He was followed shortly thereafter by 2 of his brothers. At this point the "very good reasons" really started to win the battle for her mind.

From Wikipedia:

The death of her son Thomas (Tad) in July 1871, following the death of two of her other sons and her husband, led to Mary Lincoln's suffering an overpowering grief and depression.[19] Her surviving son, Robert Lincoln, a rising young Chicago lawyer, was alarmed at his mother's increasingly erratic behavior. In March 1875, during a visit to Jacksonville, Florida, Mary became unshakably convinced that Robert was deathly ill. She traveled to Chicago to see him, but found he was not sick.
In Chicago she told her son that someone had tried to poison her on the train and that a "wandering Jew" had taken her pocketbook but would return it later.[19] During her stay in Chicago with her son, Mary spent large amounts of money on items she never used, such as draperies and elaborate dresses; she wore only black after her husband's assassination. She would walk around the city with $56,000 in government bonds sewn into her petticoats (underskirts). Despite this large amount of money and the $3,000 a year stipend from Congress, Mrs. Lincoln had an irrational fear of poverty. After she nearly jumped out of a window to escape a non-existent fire, her son determined that she should be institutionalized.[19]
On May 20, 1875, he committed her to a private asylum in Batavia, Illinois.[28] Three months after being committed to Bellevue Place, Mary Lincoln devised her escape. She smuggled letters to her lawyer, James B. Bradwell, and his wife Myra Bradwell, who was not only her friend but a feminist lawyer and fellow spiritualist. She also wrote to the editor of the Chicago Times. Soon, the public embarrassments that Robert had hoped to avoid were looming, and his character and motives were in question, as he controlled his mother's finances. The director of Bellevue at Mary's trial had assured the jury she would benefit from treatment at his facility. In the face of potentially damaging publicity, he declared her well enough to go to Springfield to live with her sister Elizabeth Edwards as she desired.[29]
Mary Lincoln was released into the custody of her sister in Springfield. In 1876 she was declared competent to manage her own affairs. After the court proceedings, Mary Lincoln was so enraged that she attempted suicide. She went to the hotel pharmacist and ordered enough laudanum to kill herself, but he realized her intent and gave her a placebo.[19] The earlier committal proceedings had resulted in Mary being profoundly estranged from her son Robert, and they did not reconcile until shortly before her death.[1]
Mrs. Lincoln spent the next four years traveling throughout Europe and took up residence in Pau, France. Her final years were marked by declining health. She suffered from severe cataracts that reduced her eyesight. This condition may have contributed to her increasing susceptibility to falls. In 1879, she suffered spinal cord injuries in a fall from a stepladder.[1]

Mary passed away in 1882, putting an end to her madness. Or should I say her supposed madness, as there is some dispute over how much of her "erratic" behavior was the result of mental illness. How much was the result of the patent medicines of the era which her frequent headaches caused her to turn. And the most conspiratorial theory was that it was an attempt by her son to take control of her finances bu exaggerating her symptoms during her trial. 

Back to our song. Sufjan Stevens includes this snippet of song because it is nice. He could have probably titled it just about anything but he references Mary Todd as she had so many significant events in her life happen in Illinois. And Stevens seems to be reminding us that Illinois is the Land Of Lincoln. More on that subject in the next track You will have to join me then to find out. In the meantime, here is a YouTube video and a link to purchase the track if you would like to rebuild my playlist on your own mp3 device.

Do you think Mary Todd was crazy? Let me know in the comments. Don't forget to subscribe in the upper right hand corner of this page to get email updates as our trips continue down Route 66 and Highway 101.

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