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John Frederick Parker is probably not a name you know, but if he had done his job more than 150 years ago, you just might. Parker was the lone bodyguard assigned to protect U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on the night he was assassinated. Instead, the 35-year-old Parker was at the Star Saloon, next door to Ford's Theatre, having drinks with the footman and coachman of Lincoln's carriage.
The selection of Parker for presidential bodyguard has long been questioned. He had a notorious history as a police officer, including being drunk on duty and frequenting a brothel, and had been brought before the police board several times. On the fateful night of April 14, 1865, Parker was three hours late to relieve Lincoln's previous bodyguard, and was later charged with failing to protect the president.
Fellow bodyguard William H. Crook wrote in his memoir: "Had he [Parker] done his duty, I believe President Lincoln would not have been murdered by [John Wilkes] Booth." The charge against Parker was dismissed, and he remained a policeman for three more years, until finally getting fired for sleeping on duty.
On the night in question:
- John Wilkes Booth originally planned to kidnap Lincoln and exchange him for some Confederate soldiers.
- Ulysses S. Grant turned down Lincoln's invitation to the theater because his wife didn't want to be near Lincoln's wife.
- Boarding house operator Mary Surratt was found guilty of conspiring to kill Lincoln and became the first woman executed by the U.S. government.