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 Post subject: THE HAUNTED MAJOR
PostPosted: Thu Sep 27, 2007 2:30 am 
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Henry Rathbone shared Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theatre; it destroyed his life as surely as it had the President’s


It was a legend of myth and fear, this bloodied gown visited by ghosts. It had formed the subject of a short book. It had witnessed supreme tragedy and brought new tragedy—madness, murder, they said; and finally the bricked-in closet where it had hung unworn for decades was broken into, and it was taken off its clothes hanger and burned to ashes. The son of its long-dead owner said he destroyed it to end a bloody curse. Such was the disposition of the dress Clara Harris wore on the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

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, j,ust 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 Miss Harris and Major Rathbone were applied to. Besides being future husband and wife, they were stepbrother and stepsister. The twentyeight-year-old Rathbone’s father, a merchant and banker and mayor of Albany, New York, had died when his son was seventeen, leaving the young man a fortune of two hundred thousand dollars. Henry’s widowed mother then married Judge Ira Harris of Albany, who upon William Henry Seward’s acceptance of the post of Secretary of State was named to replace him as a United States senator. His daughter Clara was twenty in 1865.

When Secretary Seward’s daughter met the new Mrs. Harris, together with the wife of Sen. John Crittenden, she called the pair “two very fat bundles of hair, feathers, lace and jewelry.” But Mrs. Lincoln was fond of the woman. The President had gotten up during his March inaugural ball to give Mrs. Harris his seat, and she sat with Mrs. Lincoln. Clara had been to the White House to be with her mother’s friend on Tuesday, April 11, two days after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, as the President delivered a speech from an opened window. In the listening crowd outside, glowering and cursing, stood John Wilkes Booth.

The theater visit came three days later. “What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on you so?” Mary Todd Lincoln whispered to her husband. “She won’t think anything about it,” he answered. A moment later as bluish smoke from the weapon that sent a. nickel-sized ball into Lincoln’s head swirled about the box, Rathbone stood up. Booth slashed him with a knife, opening his arm from elbow to shoulder. He staggered back and then bravely lunged forward, knocking Booth off balance as he leaped down onto the stage to flee. “Stop that man!” Rathbone shouted. “Won’t somebody stop that man?” Clara Harris echoed.

The rest of the tragic story of Maj. Rathbone and Miss Clara Harris can be found at the link.


"Behind every great fortune lies a great crime."
Honore de Balzac

"Democrats work to help people who need help.
That other party, they work for people who don't need help.
That's all there is to it."

~Harry S. Truman

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