Presidential Bad Luck?
The other coincidence that revolves around Robert Todd Lincoln is his apparent bad luck when it comes to proximity to presidential assassinations. Prior to Abraham Lincoln, no US president had ever been killed while in office, though there had been several attempts (including at least on close call for Abraham Lincoln several months before his assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth in 1865).
On April 14, 1865, Robert Todd Lincoln was not at Ford’s Theater when his father was shot, contrary to some stories you’ll find on the Internet. Instead, he was at the White House. After he heard the news, he rushed to be with his parents, and was present when his father died the next morning.
Security surrounding the president in those days was not what it is today. Abraham Lincoln was unusual in those days in that he actually had security (mostly due to the Civil War and the conflict between the North and the South). It wasn’t until 1902 that the Secret Service took over active protection of the President. It only took two more assassinations before security surrounding the President was beefed up.
On July 2, 1881, while going through the Sixth Street train station in Washington D.C. President James A. Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau. The man was almost completely insane, as his reason for shooting the president was a perceived insult after being denied a position in the government (that he was never owed). The odd part is that Robert Todd Lincoln was Garfield’s Secretary of War at the time and was present in the train station when the President was shot. He was standing only a few feet away when Guiteau walked up to Garfield and shot him twice, once in the arm and once in the back. Garfield died later that year.
The reason why Garfield had no dedicated security around him was that, at the time, Abraham Lincoln’s assassination was considered a fluke and merely a byproduct of the tensions of the Civil War. After his assassination, not much changed in terms of security, however the fence at the White House was changed a few years later.
In September of 1901, Robert Todd Lincoln had been invited by President William McKinley to attend the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The fair was meant to promote trade and industrial cooperation amongst “American Republics.” At the time it was one of the most expensive projects the US had ever undertook outside of war.
On September 6, 1901, Lincoln stood witness as the third American President was assassinated. McKinley was standing at one of the exhibits at the Pan-American Exposition greeting people who were also their viewing the attractions when Leon Czolgosz approached him and shot him twice in the abdomen (only one actually hit the President as the first shot ricocheted off of a coat button).
Robert Todd Lincoln recognized that it was highly unusual for one person to be nearby at three presidential assassinations. He apparently turned down any later requests to be near a president, 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.” Robert Todd Lincoln died July 26, 1926, just 37 years before the fourth US president was assassinated in November of 1963.