Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the great President Abraham Lincoln, lived an extraordinary life. He was the only one of Abraham and Mary's four sons to live into adulthood and throughout his life he was present for a remarkable number of major events, including Robert E. Lee's surrender to U.S. Grant at Appomattox, essentially ending the Civil War and the dedication of the memorial to his father in 1922 in Washington, DC.
But, there is nothing more incredible than the coincidence that Robert Lincoln was either present or in very close proximity to three Presidential assassinations. Since there have only been four such occurrences in US history, it's pretty darn amazing that one man was witness to 75% of them!
Robert Lincoln served on General Grant's staff during the last days of the Civil and when it ended, he returned to Washington to be with his parents. President and Mrs. Lincoln invited him to join them at Ford's Theater on that fateful night in 1865 but he declined, saying he was too tired. Later, after John Wilkes Booth shot the President, a messenger was sent to Robert to inform him of the situation and he rushed to his father's bedside at Petersen House, across the street from Ford's theater and where the President was taken after he was shot. Robert was bedside when Abraham Lincoln succumbed to his injuries, hours later in the morning of April 15th, 1865.
After his father's death, Robert resigned his commission in the Army and moved to Chicago with his mother and his younger brother, Tad. While there, he completed his law degree and then spent a few years in his own practice before accepting an offer to be Secretary Of War for President James Garfield. He moved back to Washington and began his life in politics. Mere months after arriving in Washington and taking the job, on July 2nd, 1881, Robert accompanied President Garfield to the train station in Washington along with a few others, though, notably, NOT a security contingent for the President as they did not have one in those days. As Garfield walked into the station a man named Charles Guiteau, who was a political rival of Garfield's and an ally of Garfield's Vice President, Chester A. Arthur, jumped out, brandished a pistol and shot the President twice. Garfield collapsed and was carried first upstairs in the train station and later back to the White House where he lingered for rest of the summer, in and out consciousness, until he died on September 19th, 1881. Robert Lincoln, again witness to brutal assassination, said "How many sorrows have I passed in this town?"
Robert Lincoln would continue to serve as Secretary of War under the new President, Chester Arthur until 1885 when he briefly left politics before returning as ambassador to the United Kingdom for four years, after which he returned back to private law practice and later became President of the Pullman Rail Car Company in 1897. Four years later, tragedy would strike him again.
At the invitation of President William McKinley, Robert Lincoln join the President's entourage at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. While there, an unemployed steel worker and avowed anarchist Leon Czolgosz ambushed President McKinley in the Temple of Music on the fairgrounds on September 6th, 1901, where McKinley was meeting with the public.
Czolgosz shook the President's hand, then drew his pistol and fired two shots, one of which buried itself in the abdomen of the President. Czolgosz was apprehended immediately and McKinley was carried back to Milburn House, where he was staying while in Buffalo. The next morning, he seemed to be on the road to recovery before developing gangrene and passing away 8 days after the attack on September 14th, 1901. Lincoln was again devastated to be so close to an assassination of U.S. Presidents and later, when invited to other events by subsequent Presidents usually declined and after one such invitation, said, "No, I'm not going, and they'd better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present."
This time, it would be a triumphant, if melancholy event. In 1922, President Warren Harding invited Robert Lincoln to attend the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial, the beautiful monument to his father's life and Presidency. It would be the last time Lincoln would be with a President and thankfully, no harm came to Harding at the event.
Robert Todd Lincoln died on July 26th, 1926 at age 86 after a long, remarkable, and often remarkably tragic life.
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