John Wilkes Booth’s brother saved the life of Abraham Lincoln’s son.

  • President Lincoln and family
President Lincoln and family
Stocktrek Images, Inc/ Alamy Stock Photo

John Wilkes Booth will forever be infamous for assassinating the man widely regarded as the greatest President in American history, but not all Lincoln-Booth relations were strained. A year or two before Honest Abe’s death, in fact, Edwin Booth — the older brother of John and a prominent actor — saved the life of Lincoln’s son Robert Todd Lincoln, who was then in his early 20s. (The precise date is unknown, but the event is believed to have taken place in either 1863 or 1864.)

The younger Lincoln found himself on a crowded train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey, and was accidentally pushed off the platform as a train departed. “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,” Robert Todd Lincoln later wrote of the event that put him in the path of the oncoming train. It was then that Booth grabbed him by the coat collar, saving him. Booth was well known enough as an actor for Lincoln to recognize his rescuer and even thank him by name. In April 1865, the day after his brother assassinated Lincoln, Edwin vowed never to return to the stage — a short-lived promise, as he gave an acclaimed performance in the title role of Hamlet the following year.

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