The Sad Life Of The Man Who Tried To Stop John Wilkes Booth

Double dates are hard, and here's an elevator pitch for you: they're probably all the more stressful when the other couple consists of (record scratch) the president and the first lady? And that's about as far as levity is going to get you with this story.

Look at the pictures from the night of Abraham Lincoln's assassination with an inquisitive eye and you'll notice that, along with the Lincolns and a failed actor sic sempering some perceived tyrannis, there's another couple in frame. It's not just filler on the part of the artist — the Lincolns had guests with them that night. Their names were Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, step-siblings who had fallen in love and were engaged. Rathbone had served as a Union soldier during the Civil War, and when John Wilkes Booth attacked our 16th president, he was the first to respond. Rathbone attacked Booth in an attempt to subdue him, but Booth pulled a knife and filleted Rathbone's arm, managing to escape with the old "jump off the balcony and (maybe) break your own leg" maneuver.

Understandably, history has mostly focused on what happened to Lincoln and Booth in the following days ("died as a result of the gunshot" and "died as a result of a different gunshot," respectively.) But what happened to Rathbone? Like so many stories that start with someone getting engaged to their stepsister, this one didn't end happily.

The wrath of Rathbone

According to The New-York Historical Society, Rathbone, pictured above, tried his darnedest to live the happiest life that a person in love with their stepsister can live: he married Clara in a ceremony where everyone was presumably allowed to sit on whichever side of the chapel they wanted, and went on to have three children, one of whom grew up to be a U.S. Congressman.

But survivor's guilt is a hell of a thing, seemingly more so when the country that you fought for looks at you as the guy who didn't try hard enough to save Abraham Lincoln. Rathbone's mental health spiraled — he reportedly suffered from hallucinations as time went on.

Then, in December of 1883, everything fell apart. Rathbone attacked his wife, shooting her in the head and stabbing himself repeatedly. The couple's children were sent to live with their uncle, and Henry was declared insane. He was locked away in an asylum, where he would spend the remaining 28 years of his life.