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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.”
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!”
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.
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 of.
The governor retired late one autumn evening after a large dinner. He was worried about signing a bill that had been passed by his state Legislature. “The great rugged face gazed down, the deep eyes met his eyes; there was power, protection, warning in that look, and Gardiner no more doubted the actual presence than he had doubted Lily Martin’s the night before,” wrote Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews in the book The White Satin Dress. “It was impossible, but it was so; Abraham Lincoln stood by his bed, and somehow counseled him.”