The presidential box at Fords theater just after the assassination

Henry Rathbone

Clara Harris Rathbone

  There are many twists of fate associated with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He was shot by John Wilkes Booth on the night of April 14, 1865. Lincoln died across the street from Ford's theater at the Peterson House the following morning. I have visited both Ford's theater and the Peterson house. It was one of the highlights of my trip to Washington D.C. in 1996. Lincoln invited General Grant and his wife Julia to attend Ford's theater the night of the 14th. Grant turned down the invitation because his wife refused to go. She had been thoroughly humiliated by Mary Lincoln. Mary was emotionally unstable and came unhinged when the attractive wife of General Edward O. C. Ord was seen riding alongside her husband while he inspected Union troops a few days before Lee's surrender. Julia made the mistake of coming to Mrs. Ord's defense and Mary turned on Julia in a fit of rage.. 

  Lincoln asked others to accompany him and Mrs. Lincoln but everyone had an excuse not to go. Even their eldest son Robert Lincoln had an excuse. He had arrived in Washington D.C. that day by train. He had been at the front serving on the staff of General Grant. Robert claimed to be exhausted. Lincoln settled on a young Union Officer named Major Henry Rathbone and his fiance Clara Harris. They gladly accepted the invitation. Unfortunately Rathbone was seriously injured fighting with John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln. His arm was cut to the bone before Booth jumped from Lincolns box to the stage. Rathbone was neglected because everyone was attending to Lincoln. He was bleeding profusely and Clara saved his life by insisting that a doctor attend to him. Rathbone never forgave himself because he thought he could have prevented Lincoln's death. Henry married Clara in 1867 and they had three children together. He was appointed a U.S. Consul to Germany and moved his family there in 1887. Over time Rathbone went insane and killed Clara with a knife. He tried to kill himself and his children but failed. His children were taken away and he was committed to a hospital in the United States for the criminally insane. He died there in 1911.

Robert Lincoln

Garfield Assassination

McKinley Assassination

Leon Czolgolz after his arrest
  Robert Lincoln would spend the rest of his life feeling guilty about his father's death. He felt if he hadn't gone to bed early he might have saved Lincoln. As it was he didn't get very much sleep that night. He was with his father when he died at 7:22 the next morning. Ironically, Robert Lincoln owed his life to a Booth. As a child he was pulled from the path of a train by John Wilkes Booth's elder brother Edwin Booth. Years later in 1881 as Secretary of War he was with President James Garfield when an insane man named Charles Guiteau shot him in a Washington D.C. railroad station. Garfield died eleven weeks later and Robert was at his bedside. Robert Lincoln became president of the Pullman Company in Chicago. In 1901 president William McKinley invited him to attend the Pan American Exposition in  Buffalo New York. He was nearby when the anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot McKinley in the stomach at point blank range. McKinley died of gangrene eight days later. Robert Lincoln became a virtual recluse after this. He refused to attend presidential functions because he considered himself bad luck. Robert Lincoln retired in Manchester Vermont and died there in 1926. He became the only member of the Lincoln family that was not buried in the family plot in Springfield Illinois.    


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