Tragedy chased Robert Todd Lincoln

May 18, 2019

For The Madera Tribune
An artist’s drawing of former U.S. President James A. Garfield and Robert Todd Lincoln.

Robert Todd Lincoln lived a life filled with irony. As a young lad, he was rescued from falling off a moving train by Edwin Booth, the elder brother of John Wilkes Booth, his father’s assassin, but this was just the beginning of the strange twists of fate that Robert would encounter throughout his life.


Upon graduating from Harvard University, Lincoln joined the army and was assigned to General Ulysses S. Grant’s staff. Later he served the United States as its last Minister to Great Britain, before the title was changed to Ambassador, and then as United States Secretary of War under Garfield. When he left government service, he became President of the Pullman Company of Chicago, and that’s how history was able to place Robert at the scene of yet another national tragedy, which turned him into a superstitious recluse. 


Robert Todd Lincoln was in Washington D.C. on April 14, 1865, the night that his father was shot, and upon hearing the news rushed to his bedside where he maintained a vigil until the stricken President passed away. This, however, was not the last time that he would see a President die.


In 1881, Robert Todd Lincoln, as secretary of war, was traveling with James A. Garfield when the President was shot in the Washington, D.C., railroad station, and was with him when he later died.
Then in 1901, whom do you think was invited to attend the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, with President William McKinley? Robert Todd Lincoln! Thus, he was on hand to witness the shooting of the 25th president of the United States and the third to be assassinated.


After the death of McKinley, Robert Todd Lincoln refused to attend any future presidential functions. His proximity to the assassinations of three U.S. Presidents convinced him that he carried a curse. He retired and became a virtual recluse.


In 1926, Robert Todd Lincoln died, and they buried him, not in Illinois, but in Vermont. Thus he became the only member of his father’s immediate family not to be buried in the Lincoln family plot in Springfield, Illinois — one final twist in the life of the man who watched 3 Presidents die.

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