Henry Rathbone
Episode 7- Downfall of Henry Rathbone

When the Civil War ended, it was supposed to be the greatest of Celebrations. But when Abraham Lincoln is assassinated, it breaks the nation, and the mind of a man.

Listen to “The Downfall of Henry Rathbone” on Spreaker.

As you walk through the halls of the old German Monastery, you notice doctors, nurses and patients. But you soon begin to realize that this was not ordinary hospital. This was a hospital for the Criminally Insane. Each patient had a story to tell, but you’re just there just for the one. You turn down the corridor and there sits a man. The man that you came to see.

You take a seat in front of him with your pen and notebook in hand. The man looked to have been in his mid 50’s, he was thin with graying hair. You strike up a conversation with the man, he was polite, but he spoke earnestly.

He was convinced he was being tortured and persecuted, he said there was a devise hidden within the walls of his room that emitted vapors into his head that caused him migraines. He also complained of people sneaking about outside of his room at night.

While there was no doubt in your mind that the man had suffered from hallucinations, he looked broken. As though his past had forever haunted him.

He was reluctant to talk about his life and how he ended up in the hospital. But eventually, the man opened up. You start to ask him questions and you write down his answers.

What is your full name? You ask him.

My full name is, Henry Reed Rathbone, Former Major of the US Army

You then ask him why he was at the hospital

I suppose, to get to why I am here now, I must start with what happened years before…
(Henry’s voice fades out and soft music fades in)

It was April of 1865, General Robert E Lee surrendered, and the Civil War was finally over. The Capital had all sorts of celebrations, there were fireworks, parades, bonfires. It was a glorious sight to see. We all wanted the celebrations to last forever! So, when My fiancé Clara and I were invited to accompany the President and his Wife to the Theater, we most graciously accepted. We met at Clara’s house April 13tharound 8:20 that evening. We got into the carriage with the President and First Lady and made our way to Fords Theater. The play that we were going to see was ‘Our American Cousin”, it had already by the time we got there so we hurried inside…

It was as time had stood still when The President entered the Box. Everyone turned to look, then the theater erupted with Cheers and the band played “Hail to the chief” The President was a most humble man, he smiled and bowed ever so as he took his seat next to his wife and the play resumed…
It was a wonderful play, the second act of scene three was starting, and Harry Hawk just delivered  his line…

(Harry Hawks voice fades in with an echo)
“Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal–you sockdologizing old man-trap!”
(Then the sound of a pistol shot)

Henry eyes looked past you, a tear falls down his cheek, like remembering what happened next just broke his soul into a million pieces. You give him time to continue, you don’t say anything. Henry returns his gaze to you and he continues.

I… I didn’t even have time to react, until the shot fired. I turned to see John Wilkes Booth holding a gun at the back of the Presidents head. I instantly sprang toward him and seized him. But, he wrestled himself away from my grasp, and made a violent thrust at my breast with a large knife. I parried the blow by striking it up and received a wound several inches deep in my left arm, between the elbow and the shoulder. I lunged at him at him again, but I was only able to grab a piece of his jacket before he jumped out of the box onto the stage. As he went across the stage, I cried out. “Stop That Man!”

No one moved at first, they must have thought it was a part of the play, but then they looked at the President. I went to him, he hadn’t moved, but his head was bent forward, and his eyes were closed.

I rushed to the door and tried to leave the box to get a doctor, but Booth had the door barred shut and I couldn’t get it open. I could hear people on the other side trying to get in as well. After several attempts I was able to remove the plank and opened the door.

I saw Dr. Charles Leale on the other side of the door I went to him with my arm wounded, I wanted him to attend to it, but he placed a hand under my chin and I knew that I wasn’t in immediate danger. He rushed passed me to aid the President. Mrs. Lincoln was holding him upright, she was weeping bitterly. The Dr checked for a pulse, but he wasn’t able to find any, he urged us to help him move the President to the floor, so he could attempt to revive him…

I began to feel lightheaded due to my loss of blood and I passed out. The next thing I remember, I woke up at Clara’s house. I learned that Clara had stayed with Mrs. Lincoln. The President was dead… It was my fault.

Time went by, my wounds healed, but I never got over that night. I retired from the army in 1870 from my sickness. I married Clara, we moved to Albany New York so I could look for work. I wasn’t doing well, but I didn’t let on, whenever someone asked I told them it was just stomach troubles.

It was 1882, I was 45 and I was constantly seeing doctors, one who treated me said my attacks were “Neuralgia of the head and face” as well as heart palpitations and breathing difficulties. My moods were changing, no one would hire me. I began to fear that Clara would take the children and leave. Why wouldn’t she? She was charming, elegant, had wealth of her own and I… I was becoming more estranged and hostile towards her.

We needed a new change, so we left for Germany on a Steamship. We lived there for seven months, but things weren’t changing for the better. They were getting worse. I became pale, and thin. I was imagining things that later I was told didn’t happen. I was so fearful about Clara leaving, that I would not allow her to sit by the window or go anywhere alone… I begged her to stay…

I then bought a revolver….

Henry sighed and looked away, he didn’t say anything after that. You didn’t push. You thanked him for his time and took your leave. You entered the file room and pulled Henry’s File and read through it.

According to police and interviews, on Christmas Eve, Henry tried to enter his children’s room with the revolver, Clara knew something was wrong and talked him into going back to their room. A fight ensued, and Henry shot her several times before stabbing her in the check with a knife. He then turned it on himself.

A letter was sent from the US Consul in Brunswick Germany to the Chief American Minister in Berlin stating.

Hon A.A. Sargent,
US Envoy Extraordinary etc. etc.


The Vice Consul of this district . . . informs me . . . that a terrible tragedy had occurred in the American colony in Hanover. Col. H.C. Rathbone of Washington D.C. in a fit of insanity killed his wife and wounded himself, it is thought mortally. I am at present in possession of no further particulars . . .

I am sir your obt servt

Williams C. Fox
US Consul

There were several interviews with Henry’s Lawyer, and his doctor, they believed Henry never recovered from the Presidents assassination, they believed he was suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. He eventually could no longer control his anger, and took it out on Clara.

The German authorities said that Henry was mentally ill and could not be prosecuted. Once he recovered from his wounds, he was sent to the Provincial Insane Asylum, where he spent the rest of his life.

Henry Rathbone died August 14th1911, he was buried with Clara in November. There were no parades, no fanfares celebrating his life. His youngest son would never let his father’s memory fade. He often told people about that night at Ford’s theater, and that his father never was the same again…

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