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Spiritualism, a belief that spirits of the dead have the ability to communicate with the living, reached the peak of its popularity and influence in the mid to late 19th century. In the months following Willie's death, Mary began to seek comfort in spiritualism, particularly seeking out mediums who conducted séances, through which she believed she could contact her departed sons. Mary was not alone in her use of spiritualism: other prominent Americans consulted clairvoyants and hosted séances in an effort to process the deaths of loved ones. Mary hosted at least eight séances at the White House. Abraham Lincoln's personal attitude toward spiritualism continues to be a source of debate, although he did attend at least two spiritualist sessions in the White House. After Abraham Lincoln’s death, Mary employed a spiritualist photographer, who created a portrait of her supposedly showing the spirit of her departed husband looking over her protectively.