That's right you heard it hear first, Booth saves Lincoln. In a selfless act of bravery Booth single handed saved the life of Lincoln from certain death. And to blow your mind even more it happened in New Jersey. By now you must have totally discredited my other works and called me nuts and label me the worst historian ever, just wait a second and keep reading. I am talking about the same Lincoln and Booth name that you all know however, different family members. I am talking about an event that took place before the night of April 14, 1865 in Ford's Theatre. I am talking about a chance meeting on a train platform that saved one mans life and perhaps some dignity for another mans family.
Now, who was Robert Todd Lincoln and what was he doing in Jersey City, New Jersey. Robert was the oldest of the Lincoln's children. He attended the Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire which, according to their website, has practiced the Harkness method of teaching since 1781 (Your welcome for the free plug PEA). After graduating, Lincoln then made his way to Ha'vad. There, Lincoln was a real party boy, joining, not one but, two fraternities. But it was on a return trip home to D.C. sometime in late 1863/early 1864 that Lincoln had a date with destiny. A date and event that is often overlooked and forgotten.
Edwin Booth was born 1833, into a family shrouded in mystery. Booth's parents ran away to the United States to start a new and secret family. Booth's father was Junius Brutus Booth who was a pretty famous actor, dare I compare him as the Orlando Bloom of his time and his mother Mary Ann Holmes who was just an average plain Jane kinda gal, who fell in love with the world famous Junius. Anyways, Edwin was the the first of ten children, I guess there wasn't much to do at the Booth family home. Edwin followed in his father's footsteps, no not as a guy who leaves his first family behind but, as an actor. As an actor Booth was pretty good and quite famous. During his career he not only toured every major American city of the mid 19th century but even preformed in front of European audiences. But on that same day Lincoln was heading home, Booth was also standing on that train platform. And as if i was making this up, which I am not, Booth was heading to a close friend's home, Mr. John T. Ford (That's right Mr. Ford, the owner of Ford's Theatre). So Edwin Booth a famous American actor just going to visit a friend when the only thing that could be the silver lining on his family name fell squarely on his shoulders.
Now the date has been disputed as the only recording of the event came from Lincoln himself in 1909, some 46 years after the day. As both men entered the Central Railroad Terminal, they both purchased tickets and made their ways to the platform. Both men were heading south, Lincoln to D.C. and Booth to Richmond, Va. So for some reason Lincoln felt in necessary to retell the Booth story and make him basically a hero. As Lincoln told Richard Watson Gilder, the editor of The Century Magazine, it was like any other time he took the train.
"The incident occurred while a group of passengers were late at night purchasing their sleeping car places from the conductor who stood on the station platform at the entrance of the car. The platform was about the height of the car floor, and there was of course a narrow space between the platform and the car body. There was some crowding, and I happened to be pressed by it against the car body while waiting my turn. In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name."
Talk about Booth being in the right place at the right time. This shows that Booth was a pretty stand up guy, because he had no idea who Lincoln was and probably would rescue anyone he saw in peril. And for Lincoln, it must have been a thrill to be saved by the famous actor, I mean imagine if Brad Pitt or Mark Wahlberg saved your life, you'd crap your pants. Lincoln never retold the story to anyone in his family, not then and not later. He did retell the story to his friends while serving in the later part of the Civil War. Booth received letters of thanks for Lincoln's friend and commander Colonel Badeau and from General Ulysses S. Grant, come on Grant, that is impressive. After the letters to Booth in 1864ish and Lincoln's retelling in 1909 the story has fallen into the cracks of history and I think you'll only need one guess why.
Well if you guess John Wilkes Booth and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln as the reason then congratulations, you got it. Now aside from being a failed actor, JWB is best known for assassinating perhaps greatest American President ever (Definitely in the top five). After the events at Ford's Theatre, the Booth name was tainted forever. For Edwin, the actions of JWB destroyed him personally, his family name and the nation. Booth even wrote to a friend,
"I have received the unhappy tidings of the suspicions of a brother's crime, but because a good man and a most justly honored and patriotic ruler has fallen in an hour of national joy by the hand of an assassin."
But what helped Booth keep it together after April 15? The memory of him saving Robert Todd Lincoln. And that is what Booth held onto, his career was basically over and he lived a life of seclusion as he feared retaliation for his brother's actions. But Booth never used the story to save himself or his family. Instead, Booth used it for himself as a reminder that he was a good man and came from a family that should not be shamed by the actions of one member.
But what is left today of this story? Well your looking at it, not much. Today the old Central Railroad building is used by tourist heading over to visit Liberty and Ellis Island, people heading to and from work in downtown Manhattan and on weekends in the spring and summer wedding parties to capture that special day. However, as history goes, I doubt most visitors to the building know the events that took place there. Now, am I not saying there should be a 15 foot granite monument of Edwin Booth pulling Robert Todd Lincoln upwards, of course not but maybe a plaque or even just a sign of some sort. I know the Booth name is right up there with Benedict Arnold (who I have previously defended), the Rosenberg's and the cast of the Jersey Shore as villains in American History. But the selfless actions of Edwin Booth that day deserve to be honored. Robert Todd Lincoln kept the story secret from his family after his fathers death, well for pretty obvious reasons. Booth kept the story to himself perhaps in the fear no one would believe him. But it did happen and Robert Todd Lincoln went on to live a long, happy and successful life, and he owed that all to Edwin Booth.