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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Lincoln's Life Was Actually Saved by Booth...

...But It's Not What You Think.

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln is an event that will forever be etched into the hearts of generations of Americans.  His death not only marked the end to the legacy of a living legend, but also sparked one of the largest manhunts in American history, instantly making his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, the most infamous fugitive this country has ever seen.  

But not long before his fateful rendezvous with Lincoln at Ford Theater, Booth had actually saved Lincoln's life.  Yes, as crazy as it is to believe, Booth saved Lincoln from certain disaster.

Though it's not the Booth you're thinking of...or the Lincoln for that matter.  

During the winter months of 1864, Robert Todd Lincoln, the eldest son of then President Lincoln, was boarding a train in Jersey City, New Jersey bound for Washington.  It was dark, conditions were cold and the train was extraordinarily crowded.  In his own words, Robert Lincoln recalled what happened next as follows:
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, brother of the notorious John Wilkes Booth, had been in the right place at the right time, rescuing the doomed Robert Lincoln from an untimely and ugly demise.  Like his infamous brother, Edwin was one of the most well-known and respected Shakespearean actors of the 19th century.  In fact, Edwin had been praised for his portrayal of Hamlet by President Lincoln, who was a self-proclaimed connoisseur of Shakespeare. It must have been quite the experience for young Robert Lincoln to be rescued by the Brad Pitt of his day!

Less than a year later, Edwin's brother took the life of the president, forever altering his family's fate from that of noteworthy actors to cold-blooded killers.  Edwin, who didn't know at the time that he had saved the life of President Lincoln's son, received notification from Robert Lincoln himself, thanking him for his good deed on that fateful day.  It is said that Edwin regularly pondered the incident, allowing to comfort him in the wake of his brother's horrific act.

Robert Lincoln went on to have a successful political career, eventually climbing the ranks to become Secretary of War (Defense) under Presidents Garfield and Arthur.  Edwin Booth went on to continue his career as an actor, becoming one of the most influential Shakespearean actors in American history.

Booth saves Lincoln, Booth kills Lincoln.

One of the many ironies of history I suppose.