A Look Back: 712 Jackson Place

Westbrook Murphy, General Counsel, Truman Scholarship Foundation

For this
summer’s TSA National Conference, Matt Garza (CA ’09) is putting together a map
of Washington, DC sites associated with Harry Truman.  It includes the HST
Scholarship Foundation’s offices at 712 Jackson Place—a townhouse on the west
side of Jackson Square across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

townhouse—formerly No. 8—once had been owned by Major Henry Rathbone, whose
story is told below.  So don’t be surprised if Tara or Tonji sometimes act
a bit strangely…

Tragedy of Major Rathbone

(from “GHOSTS: Washington’s most famous ghost stories,” by John

Rathbone was a brilliant and successful young officer when he moved into Number
8 Jackson Place. At that time he was hopeful of making New York Senator
Harris’s daughter Clara his wife. It was Miss Harris who accompanied the Major
the night he went with President and Mrs. Lincoln to see “Our American
Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre. Major Rathbone was stabbed in the head and neck
by John Wilkes Booth before the assassin made good his escape by jumping onto
the stage from the presidential box.

seriously wounded, Major Rathbone responded to treatment and physically
recovered from his wounds, but his mind was never quite the same. He was
distracted, moody. He and Clara Harris were eventually married, and his wife
accepted his moods, thinking that some day he would again become the man she
used to know. Perhaps that is why she agreed to move with him to Germany.

Hoping to
escape his recurring depression, the Major resigned his commission and with his
wife set out for Hanover. Another country and another life, however, proved no
panacea. He became more despondent. As his wife and children prepared for the
coming Christmas holidays, Rathbone seemed to lose touch with reality
altogether. He took a gun, shot his wife to death, and would have killed his
children if a nurse had not intervened. He then shot himself. Whether or not
Rathbone was reliving that struggle some eighteen years earlier with John
Wilkes Booth is only conjecture.

were able to save what was left of the life of Henry Rathbone, but he spent the
rest of his days in an insane asylum far from his former home on Lafayette
Square. The news of the Rathbone tragedy quickly reached Washington. Some of
his former neighbors wept at the misfortune, but as they walked along Jackson
Place they often took their children by the hand and crossed over into the park
rather than walk directly in front of the old Rathbone house. They seemed to be
afraid the web of fate that had entangled so many victims of the Lincoln
assassination might still hang in the air around the house of the unfortunate
Major. A few expressed fear that his deranged spirit would cross the ocean,
while others contended it already had. They whispered of hearing a man crying.
Tales spun over backyard fences or on porches at night told of heartbreaking
sobs drifting from the old home where, for a few brief years Rathbone had known
success, joy and happiness.

Westbrook Murphy serves as General Counsel of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation.

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