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A Tragedy's Second Act

The invitation went instead to Henry and Clara. They were waiting at the senator's home, where they lived, when the presidential carriage arrived. Despite the night chill, Clara recalled, the Lincolns were "in the gayest of spirits."

The play had started when the foursome arrived. But the performance stopped when the president entered. The audience stood and cheered, and the orchestra played "Hail to the Chief." The entourage made its way to the presidential box. The president took a seat in a cushioned rocking chair near the door. His wife sat in a chair to his right. Rathbone sat on an ornate, upholstered walnut sofa near the back of the box. Clara was in a chair to his right. At one point the president reached over and held his wife's hand. She joked: "What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on to you so?"

At 10:13 p.m., during Act 3, Scene 2, Booth slipped in through the door just as actor Harry Hawk delivered the comic line, "you sockdologizing old man-trap," down on the stage. The gunshot mingled with the laughter. The major turned and saw Booth through the gun smoke.

Booth yelled something like, "Freedom!"

"I instantly sprang toward him, and seized him," the major said later. "He wrested himself from my grasp."

In addition to his derringer, Booth also carried a kind of Bowie knife that he now plunged toward the major. "I parried the blow by striking it up," Rathbone said. But the blade cut into the inside of his left arm near his armpit. It pierced his biceps and grazed the bone a fraction of an inch from two major blood vessels.

The major recoiled, but then reached for Booth again, grasping only a piece of his clothing before the assassin vanished over the railing.

"Stop that man!" Rathbone yelled.

From the stage, Booth shouted: "Sic semper tyrannis!"

The box was now in chaos. Lincoln, with a gunshot wound to the back of his head, sat slumped in his chair, eyes closed. Clara screamed: "The president is shot!" Blood was everywhere -- most of it from Rathbone's stab wound. It soaked Clara's dress, and streaked her hands and face.

Rathbone struggled to open a door to the box that Booth had wedged closed with a piece of a music stand. In rushed doctors and soldiers. Mary Lincoln was hysterical as the physicians laid the president on the floor.

The doctors decided that Lincoln was too badly wounded to be transported to the White House. Instead, they had him carried to a boardinghouse across the street. He was laid on a bed in a back room, and the death vigil began. Henry and Clara helped Mary Lincoln across the street.


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