Friday, May 23, 2014

Book review: "Worst Seat in the House: Henry Rathbone's Front Row View of the Lincoln Assassination" by Caleb Jenner Stephens

Clara and Henry Rathbone are names that are all but lost to history, however they were witnesses to one of the most pivotal moments in American history, the Lincoln assassination. This night at the theater will change their lives, for the worse.

 ("More than 15,000 books have been written about President Lincoln, the assassination, Ford's Theater, the aftermath of the assassination, and then Mary Lincoln's decline", can you imagine that? I feel like the only other topics that have written about more is Jesus and WWII.)

Henry and Clara knew each other long before they began courting...they were step-siblings. Clara's dad and Henry's mom both died, and the remaining parents were married.  Henry served in the Union Army during the Civil War, mostly in jobs that fit his status; mostly desk jobs out of the line of fire. Once he was even an aide de camp for General Burnside.Though he was never on the front lines it seemed like the horrors of war really weighed heavily on him. (I think he had an altered mental status at least from this point on, I think he had issues long before the assassination. I'm getting ahead of myself but keep that in mind).

The Rathbone's were not the Lincoln's first choice to accompany them to the theater that night, they actually might have been about the last. Mrs Lincoln and Clara knew each other from being in the same social circles so they were extended the information. President Lincoln really didn't want to go to the theater that night but it had been advertised that he would be there and he didn't want to disappoint people. Henry was seated closest to the door, about 7 feet away. John Wilkes Booth burst in and shot one bullet into the back of the president's head. Henry and JWB tusseled and Henry tried to pull him back from going over the box's rail. Henry was slashed on his arm from his shoulder to his elbow. He lost a lot of blood and never had full use of his arm again.

The Rathbone's took to Europe for very long periods of time, in part to escape the celebrity that came from being associated with a terrible incident and part to hide Henry's crumbling mental status. He was struggling mightily. He constantly turned all conversations to the Lincoln assassination and how it wasn't his fault that the president was shot. He lived in fear that Clara would leave him and take the children away.Mental health care was not then what it is now, and looking back at Henry's symptoms people have diagnosed Henry with PTSD, paranoia and schizophrenia.I think one of the main things that Henry had guilt about was that he (a trained soldier) wasn't able to hold back this man with no training.

One morning, shortly after Christmas in 1883 Henry locked Clara in their bedroom during an angry fit.  When the door was broken down they found a dying Clara and Henry who had stabbed himself 5 times. Henry always maintained that an intruder and broken in and committed the crime.

I never even considered the other people in the box with the Lincolns. I don't even know if I knew that there were other people IN the box with the Lincolns when this happened. It's a sad story, there is hardly a happy ending to be had. The only one is really that the kids seemed to do alright and grow up to be productive adults and happy enough. Happy enough as you can be knowing that your dad shot your mom and didn't care a thing for you...It was a short, informative, interesting read.Anyway, 3 out of 5 stars.

I recieved this book for free in exchange for an honest review from netgalley.

No vampires were hurt in the making of this review.


  1. This sounds interesting! I'll add it to my goodreads :) Have you read Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter? I actually really liked it :) I haven't seen the movie, but that's because I don't want to mess up the book!

    1. I haven't read it, though I suspect I'd probably like it! The movie was silly fun, I enjoyed it.

  2. Wow! What a fascinating and sad story! It never even occurred to me to think about anyone the Lincolns might have been with on that night.

    1. I always just kind of assumed they were by themselves, right? But apparently there was enough space for a big couch and three chairs. Who knew? Haha


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