February 13, 2024 at 12:05 a.m.
Guest Columnist

Here’s Lincoln Lore You Can’t Make Up



With Presidents Day fast approaching, what better time to delve into some amazing Lincoln lore.

Robert Todd Lincoln, the eldest of Abraham Lincoln’s four sons and the only one to survive childhood, bore the unfortunate legacy of being present or near when three presidents were fatally shot. Even if you’ve heard this story, the details of his rendezvous with fate are more than amazing.

The first incident was his own father the night of April 14, 1865.  Robert was several blocks away at the White House, not at Ford’s Theare, when John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln. But hearing the dreadful news, Robert, age 21, rushed to the Peterson Boarding House, where his father had been taken right after the shooting. The President died there the following morning.

But Robert’s remarkable trek through history was far from over. In stark contrast to his father’s famous one year of formal schooling, Robert was a graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law. He was commissioned a captain on the staff of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in 1865 and. was present at Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Va.

Robert Lincoln went on to work at a prominent law practice. In 1877, he turned down the Secretary of State post under President Rutherford B. Hayes.  Four years later, he accepted President James Garfield’s appointment as Secretary of War. This placed him at the train station Washington, D.C., where Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau, a mentally ill campaign worker, on July 2, 1881.

In 1889, Robert Lincoln was appointed minister to England by President Benjamin Harrison. In time, Lincoln would serve as president of the Pullman Company, the post he held when he attended the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo on Sept. 6, 1901. He was just outside the pavilion when U.S. President William McKinley was fatally shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz.

Talk was that Robert Lincoln should run for President, but he never mounted a campaign. Out of caution, he refused an invitation to a later presidential invitation. “No, I’m not going, and they’d better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.,” he wrote.

It’s known that Robert Lincoln visited Mount Vernon, once the home of President George Washington, in 1862. His signature in the guestbook appears above the signature of one Lucy Hale, a socialite and friend of Lincolns. Remarkably, she was rumored to have been romantically involved with John Wilkes Booth.

But there’s more.

The Booths were the most revered theatrical family in America. John Wilkes, older brother, a brother, Edwin, a preeminent Shakespearean actor, considered the greatest of his time. When tempers ran hot during the Civil War, John quarreled with his brother Edwin, who declined to make stage appearances in the South and refused to listen to John Wilkes’ rants against Lincoln and the North.

The Lincoln-Booth web of coincidence became even more entangled a few months before the assassination. It happened on a railway platform in New Jersey. As the story goes, Edwin Booth saved Robert Todd Lincoln from serious injury or death when Booth pushed him out of the way of an oncoming train car.

There was an apparent scramble among passengers to reach the cars in the process of leaving the station. Edwin Booth was preceded by a gentleman whose foot slipped as he was stepping onto the platform, and who would have fallen at once beneath the wheels had not Edwin Booth’s arm sustained none other than Robert Lincoln.

“That was a narrow escape, Mr. Booth,” he said. Booth, a recognizable figure, was traveling with John T. Ford, owner of Ford’s Theatre.

There is no account of Robert ever telling his parents about the incident, probably because they had enough worries, with the ongoing war and loss of three sons. Young Eddie Lincoln, not quite four, died of an illness believed to be tuberculosis.  Brother Willie succumbed to typhoid fever while living in the White House at age 11, while Tad, 17 died of pneumonia while staying at Clifton Hotel in Chicago. Three months later, the Great Chicago Fire would destroy the hotel and much of the city.  

It is believed that Robert Lincoln never met Edwin Booth again, but wrote that he had “a most grateful recollection of his prompt action on my behalf.”

Edwin went on to appear in numerous stage productions, and lived to age 59.

Robert survived to attend the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1926. He was buried at Arlington Cemetery, site of the Custis-Lee Mansion, home of the wife of Robert E. Lee, the same man that Robert Lincoln had seen surrender at Appomattox some 60 years earlier. The Cust-s Lee mansion, now known as Arlington House, was the site of Lee’s wedding to Mary Anna Randolph Custis, in 1831.

----Tammy Wilson lives near Newton. Contact her at [email protected].



Comments:

You must login to comment.

Events

February

SU
MO
TU
WE
TH
FR
SA
28
29
30
31
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
25
26
27
28
29
1
2
SUN
MON
TUE
WED
THU
FRI
SAT
SUN MON TUE WED THU FRI SAT
28 29 30 31 1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 1 2

To Submit an Event Sign in first

Today's Events

No calendar events have been scheduled for today.