Booth and Lincoln

“In 1863 or 1864, Robert [Todd Lincoln], on vacation from Harvard, was traveling from New York to Washington and waiting at the train station at Jersey City, New Jersey. While standing in line for tickets on a station platform, Robert was pressed by the crowd against the waiting train – which than began to move forward – and he fell into the narrow space between the train and the platform. He was helpless to escape when a hand grabbed his coat collar and pulled him up onto the platform. Robert turned to find his rescuer to be Edwin Booth, America’s most revered stage actor who was traveling to Richmond, Virginia with his friend John T. Ford (owner of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.) to fulfill an engagement. Robert recognized the actor and thanked him by name. ‘I was probably saved by [Mr. Booth] from a very bad injury if not something more.”…Robert later wrote that although he never again met Edwin Booth in person, he always had a “most grateful recollection of his prompt action on my behalf.'”

The story above is a fairly well known and publicized coincidence between a Booth and a Lincoln. The book I quoted from is Jason Emerson’s biography of Robert Todd Lincoln, Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln. Mr. Emerson was a speaker at the 2011 Surratt Society Conference in which he discussed this encounter between the two men. He recounted that, as time progressed, the story of Edwin saving Robert Todd, became more and more grandiose. In one version of the tale, Robert Todd was supposedly knocked unconscious by the fall and Edwin pulled up his limp body. The most extreme incarnation though, was the one that had Robert Todd Lincoln oblivious to the fact that he was on a set of train track as a train came barreling down towards him. With almost superhero speed, Edwin Booth then ran forward and leapt into the air, tackling Robert out of the way of the train just in time.

A Reader’s Digest illustration of the Booth-Lincoln encounter

Though that last version had very little basis in fact, the true story continues to be told over and over by many newspapers, magazines and websites, due the palatable irony that surrounds the characters. We all know how this Good Samaritan tale would one day be eclipsed by a different “Booth and Lincoln” story.

Giant in the Shadows: The Life of Robert T. Lincoln by Jason Emerson

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Booth and Lincoln

  1. Joe

    From what I remember, Dave, Lincoln was pressed against the cars and as they started to move, was twisted off his feet and fell into the gap between the platform and the cars. As the train started to move, Booth grabbed him vigorously by the collar and pulled him back onto the the platform. Lincoln recalled in 1909 that he immediately recognized his rescuer and in fact called him by his name. Good job!

  2. Sharon

    Hi Dave, great site! Can you provide a bit more info about that intriguing illustration –so Perils of Pauline!–what issue of RD is that from, which year, etc.? Thanks.

    • Sure thing, Sharon. This illustration accompanied the story, “The Actor and the President’s Son” by Jacopo Della Quercia. It was published in the May 2011 edition of Reader’s Digest. My mother, who reads Reader’s Digest, ripped the page out for me after we read it. The illustration is by Mark Zingarelli.

      Thanks for reading.

  3. Sharon

    Thanks for the info. I love how Della Quercia depicts Edwin in a black suit, recalling the famous civilian portraits/photographs of him (such as the ones with little Edwina). I have been doing some grad school research work on Edwin and your site has been absolutely invaluable.

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