THE CURSE OF ROBERT TODD LINCOLNRobert Todd Lincoln was the first child of Abraham and Mary Lincoln and the only Lincoln child to reach adulthood. However, being President Lincoln’s son is not the reason why Robert Lincoln has an odd and dubious place in American History. Rather, Robert Todd Lincoln has the odd distinction of being associated with three Presidential Assassinations as well being present at other significant moments in American History.
Born August 1, 1843, , nine months less three days from the day of Lincoln’s marriage to Mary Todd, Robert would be the first of four sons and the only one to survive beyond his teen years.
The second son, Edward Baker Lincoln was born March 10, 1846 in Springfield, Illinois and died on February 1, 1850.
William Wallace Lincoln, known as "Willie," was born December 21, 1850 and died in the White House on February 20, 1862.
And Thomas Lincoln, nicknamed "Tad," was born April 4, 1853 and died in Chicago of tuberculosis on July 15, 1871.
Although Robert survived and lived for 82 years, he was the last of the Lincoln heritage and no direct descendants of Abraham Lincoln exist today.
Robert was shy, reserved and fundamentally kind, but he labored under the shadow of his famous and more gregarious father.
Cross-eyed as child, he developed into a reserved but determined teenager. He left home at 16 to attend Phillips Exeter and Harvard University, but would come home every few months to visit.
He was very anxious to quit school and enter the army, but the move was sternly opposed by his mother.
However, by 1865, Robert Todd was serving in the Union Army on General Ulysses Grant’s Staff. Robert Todd was present at the surrender ceremony at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, that marked the official end to the Civil War.
Just five days later, on the morning of April 14, 1865 Robert was back in Washington and had breakfast with his family. His parents invited him to attend a play at Ford’s Theatre, but due to his trip, he declined and stayed at the White House to get some sleep.
Soon after, Robert Todd learned that his father had been shot and spent the remainder of that evening at his father’s deathbed, staying by his side until the President was dead.
The end came at 7:22 A.M. on April 15, 1865. Robert spent most of the next several weeks at the White House attempting to console Mary and his younger brother, Tad.
Later reports from Robert himself show that he felt guilty about declining his parents invitation that night and felt had he been there he would have been able to stop Booth from carrying out the assassination.
In May of 1865 the Lincolns boarded a train for Chicago. Robert would be a Chicago resident for the next 46 years. Robert lived with his mother until the spring of 1867. He took courses at the University of Chicago and was admitted to the bar on February 25, 1867. He was now a full-fledged lawyer.
During the 1870's Robert became an established and successful lawyer. In 1877 he turned down President Rutherford B. Hayes' offer to appoint him assistant secretary of state, but In 1881 he accepted President James Garfield's appointment as secretary of war.
Incredibly, his second encounter with a presidential assassination was about to occur.
On July 2, 1881, Robert Todd was invited to accompany President Garfield to his college reunion in Elberon, New Jersey. Robert Todd was running late and arrived at the train station just as Charles Guiteau shot President Garfield. Most reports state that Lincoln heard the shots and saw the commotion caused by the President being shot.
Following the assassination of James Garfield, Robert Todd returned to private life and never again involved himself in politics. He eventually became President and Chairman of the Board of the Pullman Palace Car Company, a position he held until his death in 1826.
But his association with Presidential assassinations was not yet over.
On September 6, 1901, Robert Todd was invited to attend the Pan-American Exposition In Buffalo, New York. The invitation came directly from President William McKinley.
Reluctantly accepting the invitation, Robert Lincoln arrived at the expo just as the President was shot and killed by Leon Czolgosz. Robert Todd was one of the many men to surround the body of the slain President.
After Being Associated With Three Presidential Assassinations Lincoln was reluctant to accept any more invitations to attend events with Presidents. Lincoln is quoted as saying: “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.”
The only other Presidential event Robert Todd Lincoln attended was the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922 attended by Warren Harding and former President William Howard Taft.
In 1902 Robert purchased several hundred acres of land in Manchester, Vermont and built a country mansion called Hildene for use as a summer home. In 1911 Robert sold his home in Chicago and bought a colonial brick mansion in Washington, D.C. From this time on it was his custom to go to Hildene in the spring and return to Washington in the fall, traveling in their private Pullman car called Advance.
On Sunday, July 25, 1926, Robert went to bed as usual at Hildene, but when the butler entered the bedroom the next morning he found that Robert had passed away during the night. According to Robert's physician, he had suffered a "cerebral hemorrhage induced by arteriosclerosis." Robert was 82.
His remains were temporarily buried in a plot in Manchester, but his final internment occurred on March 14, 1928, at Arlington National Cemetery
After many years of mystery, the reasons why Robert was buried in Arlington rather than the Lincoln Tomb were revealed in a previously unknown letter from his widow Mary Harlan Lincoln to Katherine Helm, Robert's cousin.
In the letter Lincoln’s widow wrote that she felt, “Robert was a personage, made his own history, independently (underlined 5 times) of his great father, and should have his own place 'in the sun'!"
And so ended the story of an extraordinary man in his own right who was somehow overlooked by history, perhaps because of the towering personality of his famous father.
Those of us who witnessed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on television can only imagine the trauma of being witness to three Presidential assassinations, one of which is your own father.