Lincoln's idiot bodyguard got drunk in the same bar as John Wilkes Booth the night of the assassination

Marilyn sez, "With all this brouhaha about Secret Service agents misbehaving in Cartagena, I remembered this story in Smithsonian magazine two years ago about the unreliable presidential bodyguard who was supposed to be protecting Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theater the night he got shot. The story is by Paul Martin (my former boss), who is researching unknown people who've changed the course of U.S. history. His first volume, on forgotten heroes, is just out, and he's working on the forgotten villains, which will no doubt include this one."

Parker’s record as a cop fell somewhere between pathetic and comical. He was hauled before the police board numerous times, facing a smorgasbord of charges that should have gotten him fired. But he received nothing more than an occasional reprimand. His infractions included conduct unbecoming an officer, using intemperate language and being drunk on duty. Charged with sleeping on a streetcar when he was supposed to be walking his beat, Parker declared that he’d heard ducks quacking on the tram and had climbed aboard to investigate. The charge was dismissed. When he was brought before the board for frequenting a whorehouse, Parker argued that the proprietress had sent for him.

In November 1864, the Washington police force created the first permanent detail to protect the president, made up of four officers. Somehow, John Parker was named to the detail. Parker was the only one of the officers with a spotty record, so it was a tragic coincidence that he drew the assignment to guard the president that evening. As usual, Parker got off to a lousy start that fateful Friday. He was supposed to relieve Lincoln’s previous bodyguard at 4 p.m. but was three hours late.

Where was Officer John Parker that night? Off getting loaded in the same bar as John Wilkes Booth, as it turns out.

Lincoln's Missing Bodyguard (Thanks, Marilyn!)

(Image: File:John Wilkes Booth wanted poster new, Wikimedia Commons)



  1. With regard to human nature’s oft publicized total disconnect for civility I have always wondered if things are as bad now as they were back then. This suggests they are.  Thank you for confirming my total apathy with the current Secret Service scandal.  

    I am so jaded that the only surprise I have regarding the complete lack of competence and common sense amongst the many members of our armed services-from police officers all the way up to men protecting the POTUS-is that people are surprised.

    1. Incidents like this actually give me great faith in humanity– because they prove that great monolithic conspiracies are impossible.

      Sure, the whole `9/11 being an inside job` thing is possible.

      But given the vast number of people that would have to be involved, and the fact that they are all human, chances are that one or more of them would let slip the truth to an escort, prostitute, their mom, or a drunk companion.

      These conspiracies are only possible if those involved are super-humans; fortunately, we get repeated examples of how those in high places are just as fallible as you and I.

      1. Huh?  I am not talking about Lincoln.  But if you mean we had slavery then and not now so things are better, OK.  But I was really talking about men with badges.

  2. “I heard ducks quacking and climbed aboard to investigate” is a completely awesome excuse. I am so going to use that.

    “You said you’d finish this project by Friday. Why isn’t it done yet?”
    “Sorry, I heard ducks quacking and had to investigate.”
    “Oh, OK.”

    “Hey! You can’t park there!”
    “Be cool, it’s only for a moment. Say, did you hear a duck quack?”

    “Were you checking that girl out?”
    “I thought I heard …”
    “Ducks quacking. Right. Never mind.”

    1. The Power of the Crimp

      Howard: Come on then, let’s have it. Every day you’re late and every day another crazy excuse. What is it this time? Lego avalanche trapped you, did it? Your pajamas turned into nitrogen and you got stuck on the ceiling of your bedroom? Giant kingfisher came into your room and pecked you under the duvet? Got your jodphurs caught on a magic hedgehog? I write them down, you know. What is it? A scarecrow took you to Paris?Vince: I just had a few things to do, that’s all.Howard: That’s not funny. That’s not even going in the book. That’s awful.Vince: Not everything has to be funny you know… sometimes life can take a serious turn, colors can fade to black.Howard: Have you got my script?

  3. While I’m not trying to defend Parker here, he was so outclassed when it came to Booth that night.  Booth spent his afternoon drilling a hole in the door, renting a horse, plotting to kill three other people, and talking with the owner of the theatre about what time Lincoln was supposed to arrive.   He was such a fanatic he probably spent some time counting the grains of powder in his bullets.

    If Keifer Sutherland’s character from “24” had been in that hallway it would not have mattered, Booth was a knowledgeable, studious, intent nutjob with one thing on his mind, few can stop that kind of devotion.

    1. If Keifer Sutherland’s character from “24” had been in that hallway, he’d already have knocked out the other three bodyguards, tortured one at random, then flown to another country based on the bad intel he got that way.  The actual evil plot would have escaped his notice as unworthy of attention; it didn’t involve enough explosives.

      Kinda like we way we do most military intel nowadays, only “24” was more credible.

      1. I would be suitably impressed if Keifer Southerland was able to book a flight to another country in 1865.

        1.  Flown, like past tense of flee.  One could have flown to Canada by horse.

          You’re not buying any of this, are you?  In that case, we all know Sutherland himself has the ability of flight, given to him by his vampiric father.

      1. Presidential assassinations (and assassination attempts) in general seem to be a recurring theme for them.

        1.  Truthfully though, don’t we need a humorous interpretation of James A. Garfield getting plugged by a sexually-repressed delusional outcast afraid to shoot him in front of his wife?  There’s  a good lode  of comedy that Johnny Cash only started to mine.

  4. In all fairness the “competent” bodyguard who was on duty before Parker is to blame, too.  I imagine he should have stuck it out when his replacement didn’t show up and not been all “Hey Abe, Parker’ll show up any minute I’m sure – I’m taking off”.  

  5. How do we know he was incompetent? I choose to believe that he was (is?) a time-traveler that befriended Lincoln, got himself into a position to be Lincoln’s bodyguard, knew that Lincoln must die to avert some greater tradgedy and consoled himself in the bar knowing his friend and President were going to die. Tragic, really.

    1. That all fits! The “intemperate language” and “conduct unbecoming of an officer” were just the comical fish-out-of-water hijinks of a time traveler trying to fit in in a new society. The street-car incident would have been the time traveler swapping temporal places with the real Parker via a time warp that, naturally, produces a quacking sound as it tears reality asunder.

  6. I love people asking if this is common behavior or a one time deal. Grow up people look around you. The people in office at the intelligence agencies are people who think they are above the law, above normal human convention, and above morals. This is why you limit the police state. this is why police agencies always take a mile when you give an inch.
    Do you want law enforcement that enforces the law in a lawful manner? Use robots. If you can’t do that, put cameras and microphones on all LEO’s with constant monitoring while on duty and make them liable for destroying that data, and for the recorded behavior.

    1. Do you want law enforcement that enforces the law in a lawful manner? Use robots.

      Most precedents for that idea, from the ED-209 to Predator Drones, suggest it’s not exactly a foolproof strategy either.

      1.  Oh gosh, I forgot about the Ed-209. I want one of those to sweep my floors and clean my dishes.

  7. There are more recent examples. Kennedy’s Secret Service detail was out drinking late into the night/morning at a titty bar before he was shot in Dallas.

    I suspect that the Secret Service’s away teams have been partying hearty for as long as they have existed. It needs to stop.

  8. “all this brouhaha about Secret Service agents misbehaving in Cartagena”

    What Marilyn calls “brouhaha” may concern something serious, as it is quite plausible that the prostitutes were minors. Prostitution is legal in Colombia and the age of consent (and that definition includes being forced by poverty) is 14. Cartegena has long been viewed as a destination for child sex tourists. Under the Protect Act of 2003, United States citizens or residents who engage in sexual activity abroad with a child under 18 can face up to 30 years in prison.

    1.  Yes, and your name starts with T… I think we all know what that leads to.  The masses of vowels make it even more likely that you are a child pornographer; I have found that nearly all child pornographers names contain both T and vowels!  You could be facing hard time, mister!

  9. We’ve been getting a lot of comments since this posting about Lincoln’s bodyguard at Ward Hill Lamon who was Lincoln’s personal friend and self-proclaimed head of Lincoln’s security detail is often mistaken for this derelict bodyguard but was actually on a mission to Richmond for Lincoln at the time. Why Lamon, as a bodyguard, was not at Ford’s theater is one of the central questions the film Saving Lincoln serves to answer. 

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