Late one night in the 1860s, the exact date is unknown, Lincoln stood on a train platform in Jersey City, New Jersey, and watched as the other passengers purchased tickets for their sleeping car places from the conductor. Lincoln patiently waited for his turn to board the train. The platform was crowded and the number of passengers grew quickly with every passing moment. As more and more people forced their way onto the platform, there was nowhere for them to go until they received their tickets and boarded the train. The conductor worked as quickly as he could, but three to four passengers arrived to purchase tickets in the time he finished helping a single customer. The passengers were not interested in visiting with Lincoln, whom many of them knew at a glance; they just wanted to be on their way.
As the crowd grew, they pressed Lincoln against the train’s car body. An ever-patient man, Lincoln said not a word of his situation. He saw no danger. His feet were on the platform, his body was pressed against the passenger car. The gap between the platform and passenger car was narrow. Suddenly, and without warning, the train jolted into motion and knocked Lincoln off of his feet. As he was falling, his feet went into the gap between the station platform and the moving train. Unaided, both of Lincoln’s feet would have been crushed between the platform and the train. It is more likely that he would have been pulled further into the gap by the movement of the train and crushed to death.
But someone did aid Lincoln this night. At the very moment that Lincoln lost his footing, a bystander saw what was happening and sprang into action. In a letter to a friend, Lincoln wrote that he “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.”
Lincoln, safe and uninjured, turned to thank his rescuer. Lincoln recognized his rescuer immediately because he was one of the most famous actors of the era. Many people professed that Booth as the greatest American actor of the 19th century. Lincoln thanked the man and called him by name. Booth … Edwin Booth. The older brother of John Wilkes Booth had just saved the life of President Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln.