The Curse Of Robert Todd Lincoln


Robert Todd Lincoln, c. 1860s. (John Goldin & Co./Wikimedia Commons)

As the son of one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history, Robert Todd Lincoln should have led a happy life, but as with the rest of the Lincoln family, it was marred by tragedy and untimely death. Born on August 1, 1843 in Springfield, Illinois, he was one of four sons but the only one to make it to adulthood. As a result of their loss, his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln, suffered great mental distress and had to be institutionalized for part of her life.

But of course, the most famous tragedy that befell the Lincoln family is what happened to his father, Abraham Lincoln, on a night out just five days after the end of the Civil War, when he was shot in the head at the Ford Theater by actor and assassin John Wilkes Booth. The President didn't die on the spot, however, and was taken to the Peterson boarding house after it was decided that he was in too delicate a condition to travel. Naturally, Robert rushed to be at his side. Sadly, there was nothing that could be done to save him, and Lincoln died in front of his wife and son the next morning on April 15, 1865. Though this was surely the most personally affecting, Robert Todd Lincoln went on to witness two other presidential assassinations.

President James Garfield. (Brady-Handy Photograph Collection/Wikimedia Commons)

It had been widely reported that President Garfield was heading out on a much-needed vacation on July 2, 1881, so Lincoln, now secretary of war, was on the train platform to greet him. As they walked toward one another, however, two loud bangs erupted and Garfield collapsed to the ground. He had been shot twice in the back at point-blank range by Charles Guiteau, who was upset about not receiving a job he wanted. Lincoln reached Garfield "in about 15 seconds" and gave orders to retrieve the President's personal doctor as well as armed enforcement, but once again, the doctors could not save him. Garfield died months later on September 19, 1881.

William McKinley, President of the United States. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Vacationing proved a deadly presidential pastime. Once again, Lincoln stepped off the train in Buffalo, New York on September 6, 1901 just in time for the shooting of yet another president, William McKinley, who was shot twice in the chest by Polish anarchist Leon Czolgosz. This incident was thankfully less bloody, at least from Lincoln's perspective, as he had not witnessed the actual event, but he had only just missed him. He went immediately to the home where McKinley was being treated and was relieved to find him not only alive but conscious, but McKinley's wound soon became infected, leading to his death. Robert Todd Lincoln entered his later years believing himself to be cursed and never sought office despite much urging from many fellow Republicans of the time.