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A dramatic re-enactment, hosted by Bill Kurtis, of the 1875 sanity hearing of Abraham Lincoln’s widow, in which modern-day experts seek a fair verdict. Broadcast premiere: Friday, February 15 at 9:00 pm on WTTW

For immediate release
Chicago, IL - February 7, 2013

It was one of the saddest legal episodes in Chicago history – the 1875 insanity trial of Mary Todd Lincoln, grieving widow of slain U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Concerned about her eccentric behavior and excessive spending habits, her only living son Robert Lincoln petitioned to have his mother institutionalized for insanity. A jury, in accordance with the laws of that time, found her insane and she was taken to Bellevue Sanatorium in Batavia, Illinois.

Would the outcome of that trial be different today? Would Mrs. Lincoln receive a fair hearing on the status of her mental health? To find out, WTTW, Chicago’s premier public television station, has produced a 90-minute dramatic re-enactment, THE INSANITY RETRIAL OF MARY TODD LINCOLN, airing on WTTW on Friday, February 15 at 9:00 pm. Actors play the parts of Mrs. Lincoln and her son Robert Lincoln as a group of modern-day judges, attorneys, and expert witnesses participate in this retrial, filmed last autumn at the Murphy Auditorium in downtown Chicago. A jury of audience members will render a verdict based on the evidence presented; during and after the program, viewers will also be able to register their verdict at

Mrs. Lincoln: Pam Brown.  Robert Lincoln: Zach Kenney.  Reporter: Bill Kurtis, who also serves as host for this fascinating blend of history, drama and social justice.

THE INSANITY RETRIAL OF MARY TODD LINCOLN is a production of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a division of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, and the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission. For WTTW: Producer: Jamie Ceaser. Director: Mark Anderson. Associate Producer: Liz Reeves. Associate Director: Cynthia Malek. Editor: Paul Thornton. Executive Producers: V.J. McAleer and Dan Soles.

Major funding for THE INSANITY RETRIAL OF MARY TODD LINCOLN is provided by The Robert Thomas Bobins Foundation, DLA Piper, Nicor Gas, and Northern Trust. Generous support is also provided by Chicago Title and Trust Company Foundation, Exelon, John W. & Jeanne M. Rowe, and The Sidley Austin Foundation. Retrial event support is provided by Clifford Law Offices, The Richard H. Driehaus Charitable Lead Trust, and Winston & Strawn LLP.


For almost 60 years, audiences have turned to WTTW for distinctive programming that informs, inspires, educates, and entertains. WTTW reaches 1.5 million weekly households over a four-state area, making it the most-watched public television station in America.  Recognized for its award-winning local and national productions, WTTW is committed to presenting the very best in cultural, nature, science, public affairs, and children's programming across its four distinct television channels:  WTTW11, WTTW Prime, its Spanish-language channel WTTW V-me, and WTTW Create, its “how-to” channel.  For more information, please visit