Since Halloween is coming up I thought I would share a ghost story.
I did a search on ATS and came up empty. I don't know how many of you have heard of Clara Harris but I first came upon the name when I was about ten
years old. Back in the days before Netflix and over the top horror a creepy kid like me could still get her macabre fix at the local library. The
Folklore and paranormal section was my absolute favorite and one of my favorite activities was reading up on ghosts and haunted places. The name of
the book escapes me now but it was a collection of American ghost stories and in it there was the tale of Clara Harris and her dress.
For those who don't know, Clara Harris, daughter of Senator Ira Harris (who was good friends with the Lincolns), was present at Ford's Theater the
night that Abraham Lincoln was shot. In fact, she had been seated right next to him at that pivotal moment.
Now originally, it wasn't supposed to be Clara and her fiance Major Henry Rathbone accompanying the Lincolns to the theater.
Not until late on the afternoon of April 14, 1865, was it determined that Clara Harris and her fiancé, Maj. Henry Rathbone, would accompany
President and Mrs. Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre to see Our American Cousin . Speaker of the House of Representatives Schuyler Colfax had earlier been
invited, but he was leaving on a trip to the West Coast. The reporter Noah Brooks was asked—he begged off by explaining he was turning in early to
fight off a heavy cold. The Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert Todd, just back from service as a staff officer with General Grant, told his parents he
wanted to luxuriate in a good bed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The French Marquis de Chambrun wrote his wife that he had declined to go along “with
some hesitation,” not wishing “even at the risk of offending White House etiquette, to attend a theatrical performance on Good Friday.”
So as luck would have it (good or bad, depending on your perspective) the invitation came round to Clara and she and her fiance accepted.
Just after the moment of the shooting that sent a nickel sized ball into Lincoln's skull, Rathbone stood up. Boothe wielded a knife and opened
Rathbone's arm from elbow to shoulder. He lurched forward and knocked Booth off balance as he leapt onto the stage to make his escape.
"Stop that man!" Rathbone shouted. His young fiance echoed the sentiment. But the damage had been done.
There followed the long wait for Lincoln to die, Miss Harris sitting with Mrs. Lincoln in the front parlor of a little house across the street
whose rear bedroom was occupied by the President. Weak from loss of blood, Rathbone crumpled up on the floor before them. His fiancé stuffed her
handkerchief into his wound and he was seen to and taken home. Her dress was covered with blood, and her hands and face, she wrote a friend a few days
later, were “saturated literally with blood.” It was Rathbone’s, but Mrs. Lincoln, looking at her young companion, screamed, “Oh, my
husband’s blood, my dear husband’s blood!”
In the summer, Clara went to her family's home in Albany. She brought the dress along. It was inconceivable to have it cleaned for further use and
yet she could not bring herself to destroy it. Instead she hung it in a closet.
The Weirdness begins
One year to the day of the assassination, Clara claimed she was awakened by the sound of low laughter. She said it had been Lincoln, enjoying the play
he was watching when Booth’s bullet struck. Only a dream, people told her. But a year later, it was said, a guest sleeping in the room came to
breakfast with the same story.
Two years after the assassination Henry and Clara were married. Henry, blaming himself for the president's death, became increasingly despondent.
Even though he was a decorated civil war veteran he began to suffer from constant fears, nervous headaches and a variety of physical ailments. He and
Clara toured Europe in hopes of finding treatment fir his ever worsening condition but it was to no avail. Paranoia and delusion plagued the man and
his mental state degenerated further until the tragic night on Christmas Eve when Henry shot Clara out of jealousy of the attention that she was
giving their children. He had also been convinced that Clara had been plotting to abandon him and then attempted to take his own life by stabbing
himself multiple times.
She was buried in Germany. He was committed to an asylum there, hopelessly insane, to live in constant fear and physical suffering, declaring that
the other inmates were conspiring against him, that the walls were hollow and contained spray apparatus that blew out dust and gas
Henry Rathbone died in the asylum in 1911. He was buried near his twentyeight-years-dead wife in Germany. Their son, Henry Riggs Rathbone, age
thirteen when his mother died, was taken in and raised with his younger brother and sister by a brother of his mother. He grew up to be a United
States congressman, and before his death in 1928 proposed that the government set up a museum in the building that had seen Lincoln shot and his
parents’ tragedy inaugurated. Today Ford’s Theatre looks precisely as it did on April 14, 1865, with the same furnishings and lighting. The sofa
Representative Rathbone’s father leaped up from is just as it was that night.
As the Rathbone's toured Europe, the fateful dress remained in it's closet. She had the closet closed off and bricked in, it is said, a silent,
secret tomblike resting place for the garment.
Back in Albany people in the house with the bricked-up closet heard, they said, a shot on the anniversary of the assassination, saw Lincoln, and
saw also a sobbing young woman in blood-soaked attire. In 1929 Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews wrote a book about it— The White Satin Dress .
In 1910, a year before his mad father’s death, Representative Rathbone, so Albany papers said, broke down the bricks walling in his mother’s
dress last worn forty-five years earlier and burned it, saying it had cursed his family. In 1952, in accordance with the German cemetery’s policy
regarding graves long unvisited, the remains of the couple who had accompanied President and Mrs. Lincoln to Ford’s Theatre were dug up and disposed
Loudon Cottage, the home in which the bloody dress hung, is in Loudonville, a northern suburb of Albany at U.S. Highway 9 and Osbourne road. It is now
a historical Landmark.