Robert Lincoln: A Life Intertwined with Presidential Tragedy

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In the annals of American history, one figure stands out not for his accomplishments but for the strange and eerie coincidences that seemed to follow him. Robert Lincoln, the eldest son of President Abraham Lincoln, bore witness to a series of events that intertwined his life with the tragedies of three American presidents. His story is one of chilling proximity to history’s darkest moments.

On the night of his father’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre, Robert Lincoln was meant to be in attendance. Exhausted from a lengthy carriage ride, he opted to stay home, unknowingly sparing himself from witnessing the horrific event that would change the course of the nation. Little did he know that this would be the first in a series of bizarre and fateful occurrences.

A brush with death came early for Robert when, in 1863 or 1864, he found himself perilously close to a fatal accident at the Jersey City train depot. As he moved between train cars, a sudden slip brought him to the edge of disaster. Miraculously, a hand reached out to save him – a hand belonging to none other than Edwin Booth, the brother of John Wilkes Booth, the man who would later assassinate Robert’s father.

Edwin Booth

Undeterred by the shadows of the past, Robert Lincoln followed in his father’s footsteps. His foray into law and politics, however, would be marked by an unnerving pattern of proximity to tragedy. As James Garfield’s Secretary of War, he was present when the President was shot by Charles J. Guiteau at the 6th St train station in Washington, DC, in 1881.

Even a change in scenery and profession did not break the haunting pattern. After serving as the Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Robert assumed the role of president of the Pullman Palace Car Company. Yet, history continued to cast its long shadow. Invited by President McKinley to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, in 1901, Robert Lincoln found himself once again in the vicinity of a presidential assassination. When McKinley was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz, Lincoln was pulling into the station, only to witness the tragic aftermath.

Haunted by the events that seemed to follow him relentlessly, Robert Lincoln couldn’t escape the feeling of a cursed legacy. The realization that his father’s assassin had approached from behind weighed heavily on his conscience. If he had attended Ford’s Theatre that infamous night, he might have stood between John Wilkes Booth and his father, altering the course of history.

As Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency, Robert Lincoln, now burdened by the weight of his experiences, wrote to the new leader. In his words, “I do not congratulate you for I have seen too much of the seamy side of the Presidential Robe to think of it as a desirable garment.” Invitations to the White House were met with a resolute refusal, as he vowed never to set foot in the presidential residence again, believing a certain fatality clung to such occasions when he was present.

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