The Booth Coincidence
The thing is, if it weren’t for who his father was, there would be very little to distinguish Robert Todd Lincoln from any other late-19th century politician. He would receive just about as much study as any other Secretary of War or Minister to Britain of those times, and historians would move on. However, historians can’t ignore that he was his father’s son, which makes him just a tad bit more interesting.
Also interesting is a few very…unusual coincidences that took place throughout his life. The first one that we’ll look at is what we’re calling the Booth Coincidence. As everyone knows, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, when John Wilkes Booth shot him in the back of the head while Lincoln was watching a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C.
Everyone knows the story surrounding the assassination and the conspiracy that Booth and his cohorts had to murder both the Vice President and the Secretary of State on the same night they planned to kill Lincoln.
What isn’t so well-known is that Robert Todd Lincoln owed his life to Edwin Booth, John Wilkes Booth’s brother. The incident took place in Jersey City, New Jersey, while Robert Todd Lincoln was waiting on a train platform. No historian is sure when it happened, but most are certain that it happened before the assassination of Abe Lincoln in 1865, but that it wasn’t too long before.
Lincoln wrote about the encounter in a letter to the editor of The Century Magazine in 1909: “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.”
Edwin Booth had nothing to do with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In fact, according to several historical sources, he was appalled at his brother’s actions. At the time that he saved Robert Todd Lincoln’s life, he had no idea that he had saved the life of the President’s son. It was only after one of Lincoln’s comrades in the Army sent him a letter that Booth knew who he had saved that day. Despite the actions of his brother, Booth received a letter of gratitude from Ulysses S. Grant when Grant took office.