Remembering the Old State Capitol Building | Main | Computer security

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Edwin Thomas Booth: Myth or Fact

Originally posted April 14, 2005; updated July 10, 2005

Can anyone say, once and for all, if Edwin Thomas Booth really saved the life of Robert Todd Lincoln? A speech given to high school students by the Highland school superintendent and reported in the Olney Daily Mail recounts the event as follows:

In the 1800s, Edwin Thomas Booth became a well-known Shakespearean actor. When John Wilkes Booth killed President Abraham Lincoln, it forced his brother into retirement.
One day, while waiting for a train, Edwin Booth saved the life of a young man who was nearly killed by an oncoming train.
The young man turned out to be Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln's son.

It's the kind of story that sounds like urban legend, so I never gave it a lot of thought. But, seeing its telling reported in a newspaper without question, does give it some credence.

Added: Thanks so much to Dan Brekke for sending me The History Net article from Civil War Times, How Booth Saved Lincoln's Life. The matter of whether Edwin Thomas Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, saved the life of Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, is settled:

In the 140 years since the Lincoln assassination, innumerable myths, legends and astonishing statements have been circulated about the "crime of the century." One of the latter featured the type of clever word game that Americans have long relished: "Booth saved Lincoln's life." The statement is true, but the incident to which it refers did not involve President Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Instead it refers to Edwin Booth, John Wilkes' older brother, and Robert Todd Lincoln, the president's only child to reach maturity.

It's a long article, but well worth taking the time to read if you have any interest in these kinds of things. I should have updated this a long time ago. Thanks again, Dan.

Unrelated footnote: I'd like to take this opportunity to request the local media to occasionally focus on the scholarship of the Lincoln family. We already know what a draw the Lincoln sites are for tourism and the dollars that go with it.

Posted by Marie at July 10, 2005 1:12 PM


Thanks for sharing. I'd never heard that story before.

Posted by: JeromeProphet at July 13, 2005 7:57 PM