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Kid Stuff in the Lincoln White House : History: It's tough when your father is commander in chief during the Civil War and your mother is busy holding seances.


RICHMOND, Va. — Plenty of White House kids learned it before Chelsea Clinton, or even Amy Carter: Growing up in the Washington fishbowl isn't easy.

It's especially tough when your father is commander in chief during the Civil War and your mother is busy holding seances.

That's what life was like for William and Thomas Lincoln, the first presidential children to grow up in the White House.

"Tad," a Family Channel movie starring Kris Kristofferson and Jane Curtin, recently finished filming in Richmond and Petersburg. It delves into the assassinated President's personal side, beyond the log cabin and the stovepipe hat.

"I find it fascinating to see Abe Lincoln as a father as well as a chief executive," director Rob Thompson said.

The four Lincoln sons were: Edward, who died in 1850 at age 3; Robert, who was 17 and a Harvard University student when his father was elected President in 1860; and Tad and Willie, 7 and 10, respectively, when Abraham Lincoln and family left Illinois for Washington.

"(They) were kind of hicks in the White House," Thompson said.

Perhaps, but they managed to have some fun.

There was the time Tad and Willie took to the roof of the White House to take aim at make-believe rebels encamped across the Potomac. And there was Tad's wild ride in a goat-pulled cart through one of Mary Todd Lincoln's tea parties.

Stories of their mischief went down in White House history, but neither Lincoln nor his wife recorded much about their boys, said Tom Schwartz, curator of the Lincoln collection at the Illinois Historical Library.

In one story Schwartz tells, the boys interrupt a Cabinet meeting to get the President to sign a pardon for one of their dolls.

"Tad," scheduled to be broadcast in February, explores the darker side of the family's life as well.

In February, 1862, a fever--possibly typhoid from a foul White House water supply--made both boys seriously ill. Willie died two weeks later and Mrs. Lincoln began losing her grip on sanity.

She was duped by spiritualists she invited to the White House to hold seances for Willie and Edward, and she couldn't seem to stop buying clothes and White House furnishings.

Until she did some research, Curtin knew little about Mrs. Lincoln.

After reading up on her character, Curtin came to agree with research calling Mrs. Lincoln a highly educated, politically astute woman who displayed all the signs of manic depression.

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