A Booth Saves A Lincoln, A Booth Assassinates A Lincoln, And Then There’s The Ford Family

In America’s pantheon of Presidents, perhaps no one stands taller or shines brighter than Abraham Lincoln. Pounded into our collective minds, we were taught that he was the 16th President, that Lincoln freed the slaves and that he delivered the Gettysburg Address.

And we all know that he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater by an actor named John Wilkes Booth. But most Americans were never told that Booth saved Lincoln before Booth assassinated Lincoln.

photo courtesy of listosaur.com

photo courtesy of listosaur.com

While it was a different Booth and a different Lincoln, they were of the same famous families and the events of 150 years ago poise interesting questions about how fate, chance and luck were involved in our country’s history.

Although the exact year is unknown, Robert Todd Lincoln, the President’s eldest son, was traveling by train to Washington, D.C. As he was on the boarding platform, the train began to move and Lincoln fell between the platform and the train. Suddenly, Lincoln was pulled back onto the platform by Edwin Booth, the older brother of John Wilkes Booth and who was arguably the greatest Shakespearean actor of his time.

As related by Robert Lincoln:

“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.”

At the time that Booth rescued young Lincoln, he was accompanied by John T. Ford, the owner of the ill-fated theater where President Lincoln would later be killed.

But did Edwin Booth interfere in some way with some cosmic plan by saving President Lincoln’s son?

Robert Todd Lincoln would go on to be on the staff of General Ulysses S. Grant and would witness Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. Robert would arrive in Washington, D. C. on April 13, 1865 and spend the next day discussing the events he had witnessed during the Civil War with his father.

photo courtesy of Library of Congress

photo courtesy of Library of Congress

Then, instead of going with his parents to Ford’s Theater that evening, Robert stayed at the White House. Robert was not there when John Wilkes Booth opened the door to the President’s box, passed by the very seat that would have been occupied by Robert and then shot Lincoln in the head.

Fate? Chance? Who knows. As Edwin Booth recited hundreds of times:

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

But it is fascinating to contemplate how we touch each others lives, altering the universe ever so slightly, isn’t it?