Tuesday, September 15, 2009

“There is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present” - The Curse of Robert Todd Lincoln

Yesterday I marked the death of President McKinley as a result of assassination. A strange and trivial fact about presidential assassinations occurred to me after writing about the McKinley assassination that I thought I would share it with you. Robert Todd Lincoln has the unfortunate distinction of having been present at three separate presidential assassinations:

1) Robert Todd Lincoln was not present at Ford’s Theater when his father was shot on April 14, 1865, but he was there when Lincoln died hours later.

2) On July 2, 1881, Lincoln (who was serving as Secretary of War) was at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington D.C. at the invitation of President James A. Garfield, and was an eyewitness to his assassination (Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau).

3) On September 6, 1901, President William McKinley invited Robert Todd Lincoln to join him at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Lincoln was an eyewitness to the shooting that resulted in McKinley’s death on September 14th.

Robert Todd Lincoln seemed to be aware of his own curse; which resulted in presidential deaths as a result of his very presence. When later invited to a presidential event, Lincoln supposedly demurred 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.”

While he seemed to be conscious of his own curse, it is interesting to note that his last public appearance was with Presidents Warren G. Harding and William Howard Taft at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. Both president survived the occasion which may have proved that there was no curse after all….but it still seems strange to me.

Here is a video that Thomas Edison’s film company made commemorating the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. The film, made shortly after McKinley’s death, shows an angel like figure looking on the images of the fallen presidents, followed by a scene in which a figure that represents the assassins falls on the altar of justice presumably begging forgiveness. If only Edison knew of the curse of Robert Todd Lincoln, he might have had Lincoln standing awkwardly in the background through all three assassinations…

[Image via Pastorron7 and Jive Mofo]

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