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The Tragic Tale of Clara Harris and Her Haunted Haute Couture

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posted on Oct, 2 2012 @ 08:07 PM
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.

The Dress

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 of.

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.



posted on Oct, 3 2012 @ 05:45 AM
My god what an amazing human being Lincoln was, what a strong being.

Thank you for this thread as I did not know how the people who were there handled it afterwards. Very tragic and sad. He must have felt unbearable guilt but the poor soul tried hard.

It is only fitting such a great president's life and death should echoe in eternity.

posted on Oct, 3 2012 @ 06:03 AM
Never heard that one before! Fun read while I ate my lunch. Thank you for putting that together and posting it for us!

posted on Oct, 3 2012 @ 06:25 AM
reply to post by irsuccubus

Thank you! Most enjoyable indeed

posted on Oct, 3 2012 @ 11:27 AM
Thank you. There's nothing like a good ghost story, although that one is a little weak in the creepy department, it makes it up in the history.

I have a book of Civil War ghost stories at home. I wonder if it's in there?

posted on Oct, 3 2012 @ 01:41 PM
A bit more about Loudon Cottage and the ghost of Lincoln:

Governor Gardiner of Massachusetts recounted after his stay in the cottage at the turn of the 19th century.

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.”

So basically he woke up and Lincoln was standing next to his bed staring down at him.
He also may have helped him deal with the political matter that had been troubling him.

the book "The White Satin Dress" goes even deeper into the whole story. I really would like to get my hands on a copy.

Here's a link from the Schenectady Gazette that talks about Loudonville and the Lincoln Haunting. It mentions Clara Harris as well as Governor Gardiner and their experiences with the ghost of Lincoln


edit on 3-10-2012 by irsuccubus because: (no reason given)

So was the ghost....if any...drawn to Clara and her dress? After all, Lincoln didnt die there and it wasn't even a place he even frequented. But the locals were convinced that Lincoln's Life force had been brought into Loudon cottage by way of the dress because supposedly his blood and brains had spattered on it. I dont know how much validity there is to that as most accounts say that it was mainly her husband's blood that covered her, but given her proximity to Lincoln at the time of the shooting I suppose anything is possible. Perhaps she didnt want to be known as the woman covered in Lincoln's brains so she made sure people understood that the blood that seemed to cover her from head to toe was from her husband. But blood being all over her face is kind of odd unless she had it up against her husband's bloody form....but spatter from a gunshot might have found her face easily. I guess we will never know for sure....but the sight of Harris sent Lincoln's wife into it was probably pretty gruesome.

edit on 3-10-2012 by irsuccubus because: (no reason given)

edit on 3-10-2012 by irsuccubus because: (no reason given)

edit on 3-10-2012 by irsuccubus because: (no reason given)

posted on Oct, 3 2012 @ 03:17 PM

Hi found this in PDF format

posted on Oct, 3 2012 @ 03:27 PM
reply to post by selfharmonise

Oh wow!

Many thanks! I will definitely be giving this a read once things settle down tonight. If there are any interesting tidbits I will be sure to ad them to the thread.

posted on Oct, 3 2012 @ 03:53 PM
brought tears to my eyes, thank you so much for sharing

posted on Oct, 4 2012 @ 12:41 AM
cool stuff, never heard of that tale, thanx

posted on Oct, 4 2012 @ 04:20 AM
reply to post by irsuccubus

Good tale. Love tales of the supernatural, especially if it's related to history. Thanks for sharing.

posted on Oct, 4 2012 @ 05:16 AM
I really loved reading this. Thank you for sharing this tragic story. I definitely am going to learn more about this dress, bit the doomed souls around the Lincoln assassination.

posted on Oct, 4 2012 @ 12:44 PM
Awesome story! A perfect tale for Halloween!

posted on Oct, 4 2012 @ 05:25 PM
FANTASTIC READ! paranormal study is a passion of mine. every one knows the story of Lincolns death, but this fantastic aftermath story has gave this tale far more depth in my eyes. s&f


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