“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.
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.